A BLOG ABOUT A LOG – Reflections on the new laws for notarial journal maintenance in New York State

 by Jamie S. Blair

gold pen on journal book
Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on Pexels.com

As some of you may know, before I began my full-time mobile notary career, I was a licensed and bonded New York City professional process server. My job was, essentially, to be a courier of usually “bad” news. Even more unsettling was the fact that this bad news would have to be hand-delivered to people who didn’t want to hear about it, in the kind of neighborhoods I had no business being in, in some instances at the worst time of day to not have business being in. 

Like anyone with a keen sense of integrity, I made it a point to live up to the expectations of process serving agencies, private clients (attorneys) and even the occasional pro se client. This meant doing my due diligence when it came to making attempts at various times throughout the day. Checking all entrances for a warm body. Bracing myself if I got the feeling I was about to wear someone’s early morning coffee when they came to the door and realized why I was there. It really is a major miracle that I got out of that racket alive; like Rick Danko said about touring with The Band in the documentary The Last Waltz: It’s a damn-near impossible way of life. Indeed, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone with the opportunity to make money elsewhere. 

During my stint with this industry, there eventually came a time when New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs had to step in and combat what is commonly known as “sewer service”, i.e. tossing the serveable papers into either a sewer or any other location of latency and claiming the subject had been served. Up until the point that a bunch of new guidelines came into effect, this was relatively easy to do. Hey, process serving is a royal pain in the ass: You can arrive at a stranger’s location on any given day of the week, at any time of day or night (typically after driving in stressful traffic and/or brutal weather) and the odds of the subject being there will always be about the same: 50/50. 

In my day, agencies and clients paid by the serve, NOT the attempt. Thus, if you ran into a streak of bad luck with catching people and chose not to lie about having been able to effectuate service, you were SOLJWF: Shit Outta Luck and Jolly Well Fucked.  

Well, apparently enough disgruntled NYC servers took to the nefarious practice of sewer service that new administrative code had to be put in place since hundreds if not thousands of consumers ended up defaulting on judgements before they even knew that they had a day in court! Among the new rules for all NYC process servers was that we all had to maintain both a handwritten and electronic journal of all attempted AND effectuated serves (as of June 2022, Governor Hochul amended this requirement to just maintaining an electronic journal). Besides double-entry record keeping, why else was this not fun? For starters, since the entries had to be contemporaneous, they had to be written after each attempted or effectuated service. Waiting until, say, the end of any given week to write down all entries could (and did) result in accidentally forgetting to log an attempt or two. G-d forbid you were called in to court because a defendant or respondent decided to contest proper service – commonly known as a traverse hearing – and you didn’t have all crucial evidence to back up your due diligence, you would lose the hearing, and possibly a client. 

My main grievance with this requirement was the aspect of having to write this information down whilst sitting nervously in your car so as to get it over with as quickly as possible in case the person you just served is nice and confrontational. Call the police? Sure, I’ll just sit here and wait for them to arrive tomorrow while I subject myself to possible death and/or dismemberment by some dude that looks as though he would be having the worst day of his life if, say, the Giants failed to cover the point spread. 

Look, I’m not saying it’s gonna happen that way all the time. It’s just that I didn’t need to prove to the NYC DCA how much of a tough guy I am, especially because of a few bad apples that decided to spoil the entire process serving barrel. I didn’t need to be their unpaid employee. Endangerment notwithstanding, every journal entry had to contain the name of each party named in the action, followed by service address, date of attempt/effect, time of attempt/effect, index number, venue, along with name and description of the entity served. If there were multiple people to serve at one location, then a separate entry was needed for each. You can imagine how quick a journal can be filled when all those unsuccessful attempts add up over time. More money for whomever has to sell you the journals. And the best part? We were never allowed to write ditto marks whenever information had to be contemporaneously repeated. 

Flash forward to January 2023. New York State releases new mandatory guidelines for both traditional and “electronic” notaries. One such mutually inclusive requirement is possession and proper maintenance of a journal of notarial acts. As outlined in the FAQ section for notaries public on the NYS DOS website, the following criteria are now mandatory journal content for all notaries, be they traditional or remote:

(1)   the date, approximate time, and type of notarial act(s) performed

(2)   the name and address of any individual(s) for whom a notarial act was performed

(3)   the number and type of notarial services provided

(4)   the type of credential used to identify the principal, including, for verification made where a notary relies on the oath or affirmation of two witnesses who identify themselves with a valid government issued ID and who know the document signer personally, the names of the witnesses and, if applicable, the type of credential used; and

(5)   the verification procedures used for any personal appearance before the notary public.

In addition to the above, these journals must be kept – either in analog or electronic form – for a period of at least ten years. This last demand raises questions concerning how, exactly, the DOS would go about enforcing the new rules or even performing random audits of notaries’ journal records. Will they just arbitrarily impose fines and/or sanctions if and when they come across those notaries whom they believe to be in non-compliance? 

You know what I think? Despite the lack of a published fine schedule, I think these new guidelines are WAY overdue. Then again, as one who never meets his obligations only halfway, I tend to interpret the philosophy of “good character” as doing the right thing when no one is really looking or even thinking about it. As a notary since 2012, I’ve been maintaining a journal since as far back as I can recall, and it’s one of the smarter anticipatory moves I’ve ever made. I always figured it best practice to have as a backup for if and when I were to be brought into court to testify as a witness. It’s as yet never happened, but in any set of circumstances, it’s always better to have and not need. Now I see it was a good play for if and when I ever get called in by the DOS for logbook examination. 

I have the signer(s) of the document also sign my journal. Why? Because I can. Because I have a right to ask, and they have a right to refuse. Wanna know something? Refusal has never happened. Not once. It’s like they say: “Just because it’s not required doesn’t mean you can’t obtain it.” We’re notaries. Ethical and moral behavior is encoded in our industrial DNA. 

I must admit that I do take preservational practices to their deserved extreme. For instance, I keep an errors & omissions insurance policy to the tune of…well, way more than the minimums set forth by signing agent services, let’s put it that way. In time, although not a requirement, I plan on becoming bonded, so as to instill even more confidence in my clients that their backs are as covered as mine is. 

Client priority has been my M.O. since Day One. During any typical notary appointment, I would pull out my journal and have clients gawk at me: “Wow, I’ve never seen a notary go through all that recordkeeping before,” or some comment along those lines. The truth is, it’s my pleasure. It’s no sweat off my back to instill a sense of value in what I offer my clients –  perhaps I make that travel/admin fee a bit more meaningful and transparent, even when I know I’m generally one of the more affordable traveling notaries in NYC. Hey, I’ve managed to impress several people with what comes naturally. 

I know what some of you may be thinking: Didn’t I address the journal requirement for process servers earlier with an air of resentment? Yes, I sure did. However, there’s one underlying difference: I actually ENJOY being a mobile notary. I enjoy the fact that I don’t have to make three or four attempts to meet with someone for a notary appointment, most likely because they contacted me and have no cause to be evasive. I love that I can look people in the eye and provide them with a service that they need, as opposed to potentially fearing for my well being by being in a bad place at a worse time and forcing bad news on someone that wasn’t solicited. 

Do the ethical thing, folks – keep the damn notary journal, and do it the correct way. Maybe you’ll be audited, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be subpoenaed to testify as an impartial witness, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll forget to have two credible witnesses notated instead of one if the principal signer does not have proper picture ID, maybe you won’t. The bottom line is this, kids: If you’re a commissioned notary in any state, and you haven’t been keeping a notarial logbook all this time, you should have. Not because it’s now the law, but because doing so has the best interests of you and your clients in mind. Pure and simple. You’d be insane not to.

Speaking of “any” state, the American Society of Notaries (ASN) offers a unique, universal notary journal that will meet the requirements for notarial act recordkeeping anywhere in the US. Are you a notary in California and need to get thumbprints? Yep, it’s got a section for that. I tend to recommend this one over the tried-and-true National Notary Association (NNA) journal for its more simplified multi-document portrait layout, which is more efficient and less cumbersome than the landscape “butterfly” layout from the NNA version. I am being paid by neither entity, so pick which one works best for you! Links to both:

 ASN journal: https://www.asnnotary.org/?form=supplies&catid=10

NNA journal: https://www.nationalnotary.org/home/search-results?searchText=journalhttps://www.nationalnotary.org/home/search-results?searchText=journal

Link to rundown of new notary requirements from the New York State Department of State, Division of Licensing Services: https://dos.ny.gov/notary-public

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