MAJOR CHANGES IN THE WORLD OF NOTARIES PUBLIC
By Fredric L. Young, Green & Green Lawyers
Dayton Bar Association Co-Chair Judges Section on Notaries Public
(This article first appeared in the Dayton Bar Briefs Magazine in September 2019. Thanks to the Dayton Bar Association and Frederic L. Young for permission to repost!)
Notaries public are an important part of our legal system. They play a critical role in depositions, presentation of affidavits, transfers of property, financial documentation, and the list goes on. The processes for obtaining and monitoring commissions for notaries public in Ohio have been largely unchanged for decades, but those processes often differed county by county, until S.B. 263 (also identified as the Notary Public Modernization Act) was signed by Governor John Kasich on December 18, 2018. The commissioning process has been centralized, notaries public face more stringent reporting requirements, and a new concept, online notarization, is now permitted.
Before S.B. 263, the process for obtaining a notary commission varied by county. In Montgomery County, applicants reviewed the notary public “textbook” and took the notary public test at the Dayton Bar Association offices. Carol Blevins ran that process for years, and upon her retirement, Lori Luebben capably took the reins. After the testing was complete, members of the Judges Committee on Notaries Public alternated grading the tests. Graded tests were quickly returned and those who passed and were otherwise of good moral character were certified by one of our Common Pleas Court Judges. Then off to the Secretary of State the certifications would go so we could add more proud notaries public to the ranks.
Also, most attorneys reading this learned around the time they took the oath that they had the high honor of being a notary for the rest of their careers by filling out a form, paying a fee, and buying the stamp, stamp pad and crimper (mine are still with me today).
Our Committee also reviewed and investigated complaints against notaries public, often working with local law enforcement, interviewing witnesses and notaries, and holding hearings to determine if violations occurred. While most notaries public take their duties seriously, as in every endeavor a few do not, and their negligent or intentional conduct can create harm and havoc to others. Through the years, our Committee pulled the ticket of several notaries public who did not understand their obligations or who found their commissions could be a short-term profitable tool in criminal activities.
This has been the process for decades. But like many things, change was inevitable. A movement grew seeking consolidation of this process and other changes to modernize the notary public system, including a major new development, the commissioning of e-notaries. These changes are encompassed in S.B. 263. The changes are extensive, and I offer only the briefest of summaries in this article.
While many would consider the major change is the addition of online notary services, lawyers will want to know how the new statutory scheme affects them. Attorneys who already had standard notary commissions before September 20, 2019, will keep them with no other requirements as long as they are licensed to practice in Ohio. To ensure your commission is properly registered, please check the notary section of the Ohio Secretary of State Website.
Beginning September 20, 2019, non attorney notaries will be required to complete an education course and pass the notary public test and procedures. Also after that date, new attorneys and attorneys who had not yet obtained a notary commission and who seek standard “wet stamp” notary commissions after the effective date of the statute will not be required to take or pass a test, but they will be required to complete the notary education course. While nonattorneys hold a five year term, attorneys will still hold their commission for as long as they practice law in the State of Ohio, unless the commission is otherwise revoked.
Also, nonattorneys will have to complete a criminal background check at their own cost as part of the application process. Notaries public will have an obligation of self-reporting guilty or no-contest pleas or convictions to certain qualifying offenses. The Secretary of State can revoke commissions, even those of attorneys, for qualifying offenses.
Another major change is the adoption of procedures for online notarizations. Notaries with standard commissions can elect to pursue online notary commissions. They will be required to participate in additional education courses and take and pass additional tests. Five year terms apply to both attorneys and nonattorneys for the online notary commissions.
Flexibility for the notary public and the document signer is the intended goal of the online notary process. Now documents can be notarized remotely using a two-way audio/video communication system with electronic software that places the official notary seal and signature on the document. Documents notarized online in this manner are considered original documents, and any notarial act except certifying a deposition can be performed as an online notarization.
The new law centralizes the oversight of all notaries public activities with the Ohio Secretary of State including testing, commissions and enforcement. The Dayton Bar Association has joined with the bar associations from Akron, Toledo, Cincinnati and Cleveland and the Ohio State Bar Association to create a separate business entity, Ohio Notary Services, LLC, that will offer education and testing programs for standard commissions. Ohio Notary Services, LLC, will be the only source for education and testing for e-notary commissions. The website for the group is www.becomeanohionotary.com. Registration through this site will begin September 20, 2019.
You and your staff members who are or want to become notaries can still reach out to the Dayton Bar Association for class registration and questions. The Dayton Bar Association will continue to be a major force in the education and commissioning of notaries public, both of the standard commissions and the new e-notary commissions.
This brief summary is intended as a broad overview and an incentive to review the many changes now coming to the notary public world. The Ohio Legislative Service Commission also provides an excellent Bill Analysis available online which describes these changes in more detail if the actual text of the bill seems too exciting for an evening read.