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Assembly Panel OK’s Caride, Prieto, Schaer, Jimenez, Ramos & Quijano Bill Prohibiting Notaries Public from Misleading Public, Falsely Advertising Legal Services

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Marlene Caride, Vincent Prieto, Gary S. Schaer, Angelica Jimenez, Ruben Ramos and Annette Quijano to prohibit notaries public from falsely representing themselves as attorneys in advertisements was recently approved by an Assembly panel.

“In many Latin American countries a notary is a member of the legal profession and is licensed to validate real estate transactions, wills and other matters,” said Caride (D- Bergen/Passaic). “This bill helps protect residents, who may be under the wrong impression about the types of services that a notary public in this country provides, from entrusting their legal affairs to the wrong individuals.”

The bill (A-2512/A-3721) would prohibit notaries public from falsely representing themselves as attorneys in foreign language and English advertisements. The bill would also require a notary public who advertises his services in English or any other language to include a disclaimer on the advertisement that reads: “I am not an attorney licensed to practice law and may not give legal advice about immigration or any other legal matter or accept fees for legal advice.” The disclaimer requirement would be prominently displayed on the notary application form and included in the manual prescribing the powers and duties of a notary. In addition to the disclaimer requirement, the information would also advise the notary of the criminal penalties for the unauthorized practice of law.

“Getting accurate information concerning immigration or other legal matters is crucial. No matter how well informed or intentioned he or she may be, a notary public is not an attorney,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “This bill helps avoid any confusion that may exist among certain immigrant groups from countries where a notary is considered a member of the legal profession.”

“You wouldn’t go to a lawyer for a medical check-up, so why would you go to a notary public for guidance on a legal matter? A notary public has no business giving out legal advice, especially on matters that could seriously hinder a person’s case,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This bill helps prevent notaries public from intentionally misleading the public in order to profit.”

“The wrong advice on an immigration case or a legal matter can have dire consequences. Individuals looking for legal assistance should know that the advice they are paying for is coming from a legal professional, not an unqualified individual out to make a quick buck,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “This bill helps stop these unscrupulous individuals from profiting from the misfortune of others.”

“I can understand how a resident who hails from another country might confuse the extent of services that a notary public in this country can offer, but that doesn’t excuse the notary public from purposely deceiving them,” said Ramos (D-Hudson). “The only legal advice that a notary public should give to an individual in need of legal assistance is the number to a good attorney.”

“Purposely promoting legal expertise that you lack as a notary public is wrong. It is a disservice to notaries who do their job well and an injustice to individuals whose very fate could depend on the information that is rendered,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Legal matters should be handled by attorneys. If this bill has its way, lying about your credentials will not only be unethical, it will be illegal.”

In addition, the bill would make technical changes to the law to update the references to jurisdiction over notaries public. Reorganization Plan 004-1998 transferred this jurisdiction to the state treasurer from the Secretary of State and the bill updates the statute accordingly.

The bill was released 7-0 by the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Feb. 11, 2013.