Making an Inquiry or Complaint Regarding a Notary Public
If you believe a notary public has acted in violation of the law, there are several ways to contact us about the problem.
- Use the Complaint form to report the problem online.
- Contact our staff by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
- Call the Notary Public division at (304) 558-8000 to discuss the problem or question.
Your cooperation and information is important to help improve notary practice and stop fraud.
Administrative Enforcement by the Secretary of State
Warnings for Incorrect Practices:
A warning is usually given and made part of the notary's record when a notary acts incorrectly but there is no apparent intention of fraud.
For example, the Secretary of State's Office receives many documents for authentication or filing which are not properly notarized. Not only must the customer have the document done over to make the correction, but the notary will be warned, and repeated problems could result in stronger action.
Investigation and Administrative Hearing:
When a serious violation is suspected, the Secretary of State's Office may conduct an investigation of the circumstances. This usually follows a complaint by an injured party.
If it appears from the investigation that the notary participated in fraud or allowed others to commit fraud, an administrative hearing may be requested. In a hearing, a hearing examiner is appointed to hear the charges and evidence from the investigation and the notary has the opportunity to be represented by legal counsel and defend the allegations.
Revocation of a Commission:
When the hearing process is complete, the Secretary of State reviews the record and determine whether to take further action, and may revoke a notary commission if one of the reasons specified in WV Code §29C-7-101 is substantiated by the evidence at the hearing. The Governor is also authorized to revoke a commission.
Depending on the severity of the violation, the case may be referred to the county prosecuting attorney for further action.
Injunction for Practicing Law Without A License
The Attorney General may seek an injunction in circuit court against any notary public who is not a licensed attorney who practices law without a license. The State Bar may intervene, or may on its own seek an injunction.
Any notary who is not an attorney should be aware that drafting legal documents is considered practicing law, and should reject any requests to help prepare any agreement, will, deed or any other legal document for signing and notarization. Also, notaries are not authorized to prepare vehicle title transfers.
Adding the acknowledgement or oath form for notarization is not preparing the document itself, and the notary has the responsibility to add that form if it is not already present.
Civil Action for Damages
When a notary commits official misconduct as defined in WV Code §29C-6-201, a person who is injured financially may file a civil suit for the damages caused by that misconduct. The law states the matter very simply:
"A notary public is liable to the persons involved for all damages proximately caused by the notary's official misconduct." [WV Code §29C-6-101]
When the notary is an employee and performing the notarization in question in connection with work, and if that notary's employer consented to the official misconduct, then the employer is also liable under the law. [WV Code §29C-6-102]
Criminal misdemeanor charges may be brought against a notary public for official misconduct. The penalty for "knowingly and willfully" committing official misconduct is a fine of up to $5,000 and a sentence of up to one year in jail.
For "recklessly and negligently" committing official misconduct, the penalty is up to a $1,000 fine.
The definition of "official misconduct" in the law is quite broad:
"The term "official misconduct" means the wrongful exercise of a power or the wrongful performance of a duty. The term "wrongful" as used in the definition of official misconduct means unauthorized, unlawful, abusive, negligent, reckless or injurious."
[WV Code §29C-6-201]
These penalties relate only to the conduct as a notary public, and would not limit or prevent prosecution on more serious charges of fraud or other violations.