Dignity of Office, Notary Public

dignity of office notary publicDignity of Office, Notary Public

Public officials, including notaries, must exercise their authorized duties while maintaining the dignity of office.

The Colorado Notary Handbook states that it is critical for a notary public to perform duties in an unbiased, disinterested manner that merits the trust, confidence, and respect appropriate to the office.

The Colorado Constitution, Article XXIX, Ethics in Government (Amendment 41) requires that public officials maintain the respect and confidence of the people, carry out official duties for the benefit of the people, avoid conduct in violation of public trust, and avoid efforts to realize personal financial gain through public office other than by compensation or a trivial gift authorized by law.

Definition of Dignity

King on Throne Kneeling ManDignity comes from the Latin word dignus meaning worthy. A public official should preserve the dignity of office and public trust by acting in an ethical, professional, competent, and trustworthy manner, worthy of honor or respect.

Dignity does not consist of possessing honors, but in deserving them.” Aristotle

Dignity of Office, Notary Code of Professional Responsibility

In addition to following notary laws, a notary should follow professional standards and ethics for notaries.

The National Notary Association’s (NNA) Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility, consists of best practices based on ten guiding principles of responsible and ethical conduct. It defines Standards of Professional and Ethical Practice that reduce liability risk and litigation, avoid discrimination, maintain privacy, professionalism, competence, and impartiality, and deter fraud and undue influence.

Section I-C-1, Dignity of Office, states: The Notary shall conduct himself or herself with a dignity befitting a public officer and in a manner that does not bring disrepute or discredit upon the notarial office.

The code comments state that notaries are obligated to comport themselves in a professional manner and to avoid and not tolerate actions that tend to denigrate the office, including a flippant attitude or disrespect for the office.

Advertising should be done in a professional, dignified, and tasteful manner.

Public Trust

Under Colorado law, CRS 24-18-103, Public Trust, the holding of public office or employment is a public trust, created by the confidence which the electorate reposes in the integrity of public officers, members of the general assembly, local government officials, and employees.

A person in a position of public trust has an ethical requirement to carry out his duties for the benefit of the people of the state, not for personal benefit, and is liable to the people for a breach of fiduciary duty.

There is a common law duty of loyalty to serve the people and a duty of care to perform the service using reasonable care and diligence.  This includes a duty to keep the notary stamp and notary journal secure and to protect the private information of customers.

By federal regulation 5 C.F.R. § 731.106, government positions of “high or moderate risk” are designated “Public Trust positions.”  Federal sentencing guidelines permit judges to increase the sentences of those convicted of abusing positions of public trust by two levels.

The Founding Fathers understood that the “public Trust”, a community’s entrustment of a public official to serve the public interest, was a necessary duty of a republican government. The U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 3, Oath of Office, requires federal and state public officials to be bound by oath or affirmation to support the U.S. Constitution.

Deliberate or negligent violations of the public trust damage the reputation of the notarial office and tarnish the dignity of office.

Professional Knowledge

classroom trainingA notary public should complete initial notary training and ongoing continuing education to ensure they are competent in professional knowledge and compliant with all notary laws, other relevant laws, and notary best practices.

The notary should know how to complete routine transactions and learn to handle more unusual and complicated requests for service such as foreign language documents, last will and testament, certified copies, petition circulator affidavits, and swearing in a witness for a remote court hearing or bankruptcy trustee hearing.

Professional Manner

Like judges, notaries should maintain the dignity of office and a professional manner at all times, and avoid both impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in their public service duties. Their behavior should ensure public trust in their competence, impartiality, and ethics. They are reliable, courteous, prepared, and punctual for scheduled meetings.

Professional Appearance

business networkingAs public officials, notaries should maintain a neat and clean professional appearance, wearing business casual clothing and shoes, suitable for a government representative. Wearing shorts, short skirts, jeans, T-shirts, sweat pants, sports jerseys and hats, sandals, flip-flops, athletic shoes, sagging pants, dangling jewelry, soiled, torn, tight-fitting, low-cut, revealing clothing or exposed underwear is not appropriate to the dignity of office.

Notaries might also work as signing agents, presenting documents to customers or clients on behalf of a lender, title company, law firm, other business, or completing court documents, election documents, or in a place or facility having their own dress code.

Dignity in Advertising

Notaries should refrain from creating, using, or authorizing any advertisement, signage, promotion, or marketing activity that harms the reputation or dignity of office.

Dignity and Bias in Speech, Writing, Social Media

Notaries should refrain from engaging in conversation, speech, vulgar language, writing, blogging, and social media content that harms the reputation, impartiality, or dignity of office.  Clothing, vehicles, bumper stickers, literature, and notary office space should not contain political or discriminatory wording, images, or symbols.

Showing a preference or bias for one protected class over another might be viewed as discrimination against another protected class.

Disrespect for Notarial Office

contempt quote Mae WestWhile a notary can maintain a dignified and professional manner when serving the public, there may be instances where a notary customer is disrespectful to the notary or the notarial office.

Under court rules of procedure, a judge in court may hold a person in contempt of court for acts of disrespect, including fines or a jail sentence to vindicate the honor, dignity, decorum, and authority of the court.

A notary does not have the authority to impose a fine when treated with disrespect but is not required to tolerate verbal abuse, threats, insults, disrespect, embarrassment, hindrance, or indignity.  A notary may decline or refuse notarial service until the customer showing contempt agrees to act in a manner showing respect for the dignity of the office.

Under Ohio Revised Code, Section 147.07, In taking depositions, a notary public shall have the power that is by law vested in judges of county courts to compel the attendance of witnesses and punish them for refusing to testify.

Alabama Law, Dignity of Office

Under Alabama law, 36-11-1, Impeachment, notaries and other state and county officials may be impeached and removed from office for (1) Willful neglect of duty; (2) Corruption in office; (3) Incompetency; (4) Intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics to such an extent in view of the dignity of the office and importance of its duties as unfits the officer for the discharge of such duties; or (5) Any offense involving moral turpitude while in office or committed under color thereof or connected therewith.

Image Credits
1. Portrait of a Notary (Porträt eines Notars) oil painting. circa 1510, Quentin Massys (Matsys), Flemish painter, public domain, Wikipedia
2. Renaissance King seated on throne, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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