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Caride, Prieto, Schaer, Jimenez & Quijano Bill Prohibiting Notaries Public from Misleading Public, Falsely Advertising Legal Services Advanced by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Marlene Caride, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano to prohibit notaries public from falsely representing themselves as attorneys in advertisements was released Thursday by an Assembly committee.

“In many Latin American and European 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). “Because of this, many of our residents unknowingly rely on notaries for assistance in legal matters. Only attorneys are schooled in law and trained to represent our residents in legal matters. Unless a notary is a licensed attorney in good standing, notaries in New Jersey are not authorized to give legal advice to our residents on matters pertaining to the law. This bill helps protect people from the repercussions of putting their trust and well-being in the hands of the wrong individuals.”

The bill (A-1423) 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 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 is designed to avoid any confusion among immigrant communities from countries where a notary is considered a member of the legal profession.

The disclaimer requirement would be prominently displayed on the notary application form and included in the manual describing the powers and duties of a notary. In addition to the disclaimer, the information would also advise the notary of the criminal penalties for the unauthorized practice of law.

“Adequate legal guidance is vital when facing a legal problem. No matter how well-informed or well-intentioned they might be, notary publics in this country are not attorneys,” said Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “Unfortunately some individuals in this field cannot be trusted to be up front about their lack of expertise. This bill helps clear up any confusion about the professional capabilities of notaries in this country, and protects residents from the consequences of inappropriate legal advice.”

“Notaries are equipped to provide many useful services, but professional legal advice is not one of them,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “A notary has no business giving out legal advice, especially on matters that could have dire consequences on a person’s case. This bill helps prevent notaries from intentionally misleading the public about their legal authority in order to profit.”

“The expense of bad legal advice is not just monetary. Notaries who falsely advertise themselves as lawyers are not only doing a disservice to their profession, but the people who go to them expecting sound legal guidance,” said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). “This helps prevent unsuspecting people from entrusting their legal affairs to greedy, unscrupulous individuals.”

“Legal matters should be handled by attorneys. Purposely promoting legal expertise that you lack as a notary public is wrong and can create serious problems for an individual that comes to you looking for help,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Lying to clients about your credentials in order to make money is unprofessional and unethical. If this bill has its way, it will also 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 by the Assembly Regulated Professions Committee.