Friday, May 1, 2009

Notary jail!

Not quite, but close. An appellate court in Illinois has clarified that employers are responsible for the acts of their notary employees, and the court seems to be saying that employers are obligated to train their employees adequately. It is certainly a good idea to make sure your notary employees are properly trained (we do), but it is not specifically required by statute. This is an important case if you have any notaries on your staff who notarize documents "on the clock."

The case was rather fact-intensive (seventy-two pages worth), but for a very short version: The case involved a Kinko's employee who either notarized a document without adequate verification of identity, allowed someone else to use his notary stamp, or notarized a document without the signer present. Based on this defective notarization, a $100,000+ fraud was perpetrated.

Kinko's provided training, but the trainer was not a notary or attorney, the materials he prepared were not prepared or reviewed by a notary or attorney, and he did not test the employees in any way. Based on his training, the notary was under the impression that all he needed to do was match the signature on any sort of identification provided by the signer to the signature on the document he was notarizing. He did nothing to otherwise verify the identity of individuals whose signatures he notarized. He left his notary stamp somewhat unsecured, and his story is that he left his notary stamp with Kinko's when he moved on to another location.

Sure there are a lot of jokes about notary jail, and notary school, and notary police, implying that being a notary is a simple and and ministerial function. In reality, a notary is a public official, and as such has important duties to others who rely on the documents he or she acknowledges.

We would be happy to provide assistance or training to any employer which has notaries on its staff. It could save you $100,000+.