Online Notary Course  for California
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Part 6, Section 6
Notary Misconduct and Disciplinary Actions

The California Secretary of State holds notaries public in high regard.  However, there are circumstances in which disciplinary action may be necessary.  Sometimes it is due to notary error or negligence, sometimes due to notary fraud.  Either way, the penalties can be swift and severe.

Notary misconduct comes in various forms, such as:

  • Performing prohibited acts
  • Failing to perform required acts
  • Negligent performance of acts 

Holding a notary commission is a privilege, not a right, and it can be suspended or revoked at any time by the Secretary of State for good cause.  Misuse of your commission could also cause you to be held liable in both criminal and civil court.   Such circumstances may be:

  • Failing to properly identify a signer.
    Penalty:  subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000
    Civil Code § 1185 
     
  • Notary public who willfully states as true any material fact known to be false
    Penalty:  subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000
    Civil Code § 1189
     
  • Charging more than the allowed fee for a notarial act. 
    Penalty:  suspension for a minimum of six months or revocation of commission and civil penalty of $750.
     
  • Failure to require personal appearance by signer. 
    Penalty:  suspension or revocation of commission and civil penalty up to $1500.  If done fraudulently, the penalty is revocation of commission.
     
  • Failure to keep and maintain a sequential journal of notarial acts.
    Penalty:  suspension or revocation of commission and civil penalty up to $1500.  You could also be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face criminal prosecution.
     
  • Failure to complete a notarial certificate when the certificate is signed and sealed by the notary. 
    Penalty:  suspension for a minimum of six months or revocation of commission and civil penalty up to $750.
     
  • Failure to administer an oath or affirmation when required. 
    Penalty:  suspension for a minimum of six months or revocation of commission and civil penalty up to $750.
     
  • Misuse of your notary seal or failure to report a lost seal. 
    Penalty:  suspension or revocation of commission and civil penalty up to $1500
     
  • Failure to properly secure your notary seal.
    Penalty:  revocation of commission.  You could also be charged with a misdemeanor and face criminal prosecution.  There is a 4-year statute of limitations on this crime.
     
     
  • Failure to provide a peace officer with your journal when requested.
    Penalty:  Civil penalty of up to $2,500.
     
  • Failure to properly secure your journal and seal. 
    Penalty:  revocation of commission.  You could also be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face criminal prosecution.
     
  • Improper or misleading notary advertising. 
    Penalty:  suspension for one year or revocation of commission and civil penalty of $1500.
     
  • Improper or misleading advertising by an immigration specialist notary. 
    Penalty:  Suspension for a minimum of six months or revocation of commission and civil penalty of up to $1500.
     
  • Improper or misleading advertising in a language other than English. 
    Penalty:  suspension for minimum of one year or revocation of commission and civil penalty of $1500.
     
  • Any act involving fraud or deceit with the intent to benefit the notary or injure another.
    Penalty:  revocation (possibly permanent revocation) of commission and civil penalty up to $1500.  You could also face criminal prosecution.
     
  • Giving unauthorized legal advice (if you are not an attorney). 
    Penalty:  revocation of commission.
     
  • Failure to furnish the Secretary of State certified copies of your notarial journal when requested. 
    Penalty:  suspension or revocation of commission and civil penalty up to $1500
     
  • Signing a false notarial certificate. 
    Penalty:  revocation of commission, criminal charge of a misdemeanor, and civil penalty of up to $10,000.  There is a 4-year statute of limitations on this crime.  You could also be found guilty of forgery.  Government Code § 6203
     
  • Failure to submit to the Secretary of State any court ordered money judgment, including restitution (also failure to pay civil penalties levied against the notary for violation of notary public law). 
    Penalty:  Revocation of commission.
     
  • If you have had a professional license revoked, restricted, or denied. (for example, real estate, attorney, insurance, medical doctor, contractor, etc.)
    Penalty:  Revocation of commission. 
     
  • If you are convicted of a misdemeanor involving acts incompatible with the duties of a notary public (for example, assault, forgery, theft, prostitution, tax evasion, failure to pay child support, arson, etc.)
    Penalty:  revocation of commission.  However, after 10 years from the date your probation is completed, and if the Secretary of State finds that you have rehabilitated and now possess the qualities required for the office of notary public, you may be reconsidered for a commission.
     
  • If you are convicted of a felony.
    Penalty:  permanent revocation of your commission and permanent disqualification from future applications for commission.
     
  • If you are convicted of a crime related to notarial misconduct
    Penalty:  revocation of commission, and surrender of your notary seal to the court that convicted you.  The court would then forward your seal to the Secretary of State.  Government Code § 8214.8

Some circumstances also involve criminal prosecution which could result in your doing time in prison.  For example, if you notarize a deed of trust affecting real property on which there is a home, and you know the deed of trust is fraudulent, you are guilty of a felony If you knowingly notarize a deed of trust that has been forged, you are guilty of a felony and may be subject to other relief or remedies provided to the parties by law. Government Code § 8214.2 and Penal Code §115.5

Voluntarily resigning your commission will NOT stop any actions against you, whether those actions are current or in the future.  Government Code 8214.4

Before your commission is suspended, revoked or denied, however, you have a right to a hearing on the matter, with the exception of cases indicated in Government Code § 8214.3

Suspension of your commission means that you are not permitted to perform any notarial acts during the specified period of time.  After the suspension period ends, the Secretary of State’s office will send you a written request for certified copies of your journal entries from before, during and after your suspension.  You will have 30 days from receipt of the written request to provide those certified copies.

The Secretary of State may also require a written statement from you after a suspension to show that you are now performing your notarial acts properly.

Should you have your commission revoked, you must, within 30 days of the revocation, deliver all of your notarial journals and papers to the County Clerk’s office where your oath and bond are on file.  If you fail to do this, you are guilty of a misdemeanor and could also face monetary damages.

Any civil penalties imposed are paid to the Secretary of State, and the funds are used to cover the costs involved in pursuing and implementing disciplinary actions against notaries.

Receiving TWO disciplinary actions against you will result in having your commission permanently revoked.

The Secretary of State’s office may publish disciplinary actions in a newsletter or other publication, or may even issue a press release or other public notice. 

So, let’s look at it.  On top of your commission being jeopardized, having to pay severe penalties, and possibly doing time in prison, you may also have to suffer the humiliation of your disciplinary action becoming public knowledge.  Obviously, being a dishonest or uneducated notary just isn’t worth the risk.

Be careful, be diligent, obey the law, and always carry with you the highest level of honesty, integrity, and moral character.
 

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All rights reserved. Revised: 07/14/09.