Stetson Law Review
Symposium on Doing Business in Latin America
THE FLORIDA CIVIL-LAW NOTARY: A PRACTICAL NEW TOOL FOR DOING BUSINESS WITH LATIN AMERICA
J. Brock McClane [FNa1]
A local estate-planning/probate attorney referred a new client to you after learning about your reputation as a problem solver in international cases. The client's father ("Dad") died in Orlando, leaving a substantial tract of beach- front real estate in St. Martin to his wife ("Mom"), who owned a share already as a tenant-in-common with the decedent and also, incidentally, the client. [FN1] The client, the decedent's daughter, negotiated a sale of the real- estate to a Brazilian national who intends to erect a resort on the picturesque parcel. Time is of the essence, yet the transaction hits a snag when it is discovered that the land records in St. Martin do not reflect Dad's intestate death and the resulting vested interest in Mom.
The real-estate broker in St. Martin calls from the office of the St. Martin notaire handling the transaction, saying that title *728 is not valid. He does not know what to do because even a certified copy of a death certificate will not cure title when the property was to pass pursuant to the laws of intestate distribution of another jurisdiction. The notaire contends that since Dad died in and while a resident of Florida, the St. Martin choice-of-law rules dictate that Florida's rules of descent and distribution govern. Also, an ancillary probate proceeding in St. Martin could cure title, but the court would still need proof of Florida law. When the client suggests that her long- time estate-planning/probate attorney simply file a probate estate, the broker and notaire respond that even a certified copy of a probate order would be insufficient alone to prove chain of title, because they lack familiarity with the Florida probate court. Further, an opinion letter from a Florida lawyer would not be considered an official document that would clear title to a parcel of St. Martin real estate. Can you help? If you call a civil-law notary, the problem may be solved.
II. THE PASSAGE OF FLORIDA'S CIVIL-LAW NOTARY STATUTE
Before 1998, the Florida lawyer's arsenal for breaking through the legal barriers of an otherwise straight-forward real-estate sale involving parties in the United States and real property in a Latin American or other civil-law jurisdiction was limited. In the foregoing example, the lawyer could file a probate case and obtain an order relating to the transfer of the St. Martin property. He could send to St. Martin a clerk-certified copy of the probate order and even send an opinion letter on his letterhead stating his opinion that the United States court has properly exercised jurisdiction over the estate at issue. However, in many cases such as the above example, this approach has been ineffective. [FN2]
The foreign notary has no way to verify independently
that the court order is authentic or that a court of competent jurisdiction
did indeed issue the court order. To assuage this concern, the lawyer
could apply to the consulate in the United States for assistance with
recognition of the probate order. However, while a consulate may be willing
to identify a state's department of state as *729 the proper authority
to appoint notaries public and civil-law notaries, [FN3] consulates are
reluctant to weigh in regarding the authority or jurisdiction of a court.
Increasingly, foreign consulates in the United States consider their certification
of court authority to be an improper role for them to serve, leaving the
parties in the United States and the foreign country with few real options.
[FN4] In addition, while a lawyer's opinion letter may be accepted from
time to time in certain parts of the world, in many cases it will have
no effect on the foreign attorney or notary. The lawyer is not speaking
as a government officer, and the foreign attorney or notary views the
lawyer as being an interested party. [FN5]
On May 30, 1997, the Florida Legislature passed into law a bill, part of which was codified as the new Chapter 118, Florida Statutes, with associated regulations that the Department of State later promulgated. [FN6] Originally fashioned as part of a legislative-study commission draft creating a method of electronic notarization, the civil-law notary legislation was seen as a way to address practical problems in international business. [FN7] The Legislature *730 hoped that the law would help to ameliorate seemingly needless transactional roadblocks such as the St. Martin example. [FN8]
The new law, which was revised and refined twice in the two years that followed its initial passage, created for the first time in a common-law jurisdiction a "civil-law notary." [FN9] Sponsored by then-Florida Senator Katherine Harris, [FN10] the law was intended to enhance and facilitate international trade with Florida. [FN11] Attorney Todd Kocourek, one of the chief lobbyists for and proponents of the new law, stated, "We've often been told that Miami is the capital of Latin America. We are more closely connected to more foreign nations than any of our neighbours." [FN12]
The law was intended to bridge the divide between the common-and civil- law countries and thereby facilitate international commerce. [FN13] While there are many examples of incidental difficulties resulting from the differences in the two legal traditions, the practical problem facing businesses and individuals was that the different requirements of the two systems have, according to lawyer Theodore S. Barassi, "resulted in numerous U.S.-executed documents being rejected by legal and recording authorities overseas." [FN14] This has occurred when Florida notaries public, who are not even required to hold a high school diploma to be appointed as notaries public, acknowledge documents that are to be used overseas. [FN15]
III. QUALIFICATIONS OF CIVIL-LAW NOTARIES
The intent behind Chapter 118, as amended, is not to replicate a profession of civil-law notaries as they exist in Latin American or civil-law jurisdictions. To do so would hardly be possible because the United States common-law system and legal profession do not train notaries as a distinct profession and because the nature of the notary profession varies from one civil-law jurisdiction to another. In spite of the particular differences found among the notarial traditions of the Latin American jurisdictions, they do share certain common standards. In essentially all civil-law jurisdictions, the notary is a legally trained and well-respected professional whose signature and seal, when affixed to a document, lend the document authentic status for use abroad and domestically. [FN16] This signature and seal is used to authenticate a public or private record or certify the accuracy and truth of the facts surrounding a transaction or event in the case of an authentic act. [FN17] Chapter 118, as amended, attempts to set out minimum requirements of notarial qualifications and standards of practice that will instill in the new profession of Florida civil-law notaries what most foreign notarial professions and faculties would consider the essential elements of a civil-law notary. [FN18]
In most civil-law jurisdictions, to be qualified to become a notary, the candidate must be of high moral character. [FN19] There is typically an inquiry into the applicant's character. [FN20] This inquiry is akin to the background check and character evaluation of applicants that the United States bar associations conduct. In addition, the notary must be trained at law. [FN21] In many cases, the notary candidates attend law school with those studying to be lawyers or judges. [FN22] At some point, they must choose either the notarial profession or the legal profession, both of which require legal training. [FN23] To address this concern, Chapter 118 requires that to *732 apply for an appointment to the Secretary of State as a civil-law notary, one must not only be a member of The Florida Bar, but must have been a member in good standing for five years. [FN24] Although it is impermissible in most civil-law jurisdictions for notaries to be simultaneously engaged in private-law practice as advocates, in Florida, the international notarial community seems to have accepted the dual role of notary and advocate. It would be difficult to create a separate legal profession complete with separate specialized training because the concept of the civil-law notary is brand new in Florida. [FN25]
To raise the comfort level of foreign jurisdictions in this regard, the Florida law underscores the distinct professional attributes of the civil-law notary by requiring that all civil-law notaries achieve a passing grade on an examination relating to the following: (1) characteristics of Florida and non- Florida civil-law notaries, (2) the governing law, (3) the purposes and uses of authentic acts and associated rules and issues of discipline, (4) ethical dilemmas, and (5) malpractice dangers facing the civil-law notary in Florida. [FN26] In addition, both the Florida Department of State and The Florida Bar regulate Florida civil-law notaries. [FN27] They are appointed for life, a fact that also distinguishes them from Chapter 117 notaries public. [FN28]
To achieve acceptance internationally, the Florida Legislature looked outside of the state to address the issue of international standards of notarial practice. For example, the International Union of Latin Notaries has generally articulated standards that would be considered minimum requirements within civil-law jurisdictions. [FN29] According to Professor Jeffrey Talpis, Executive Council Member of the International Union, a civil-law notary's valid, universally recognized authentic act ideally should *733 possess certain basic characteristics. [FN30] In the case of authentic acts in which the notary confirms the full text of a document or contract, the notary should retain the original documents. [FN31] In the case of a "brevet," in which a notary merely attests to the authenticity of a fact or signature, Professor Talpis insists the notary still must retain a copy, though the parties may retain the original. [FN32] The notary must approve the authentic act if he or she did not prepare the document and must give the parties an explanation of the legal consequences of the signed document. [FN33] Professor Talpis states that, in a two-party transaction, it is essential that the notary maintain his or her impartiality, typically requiring the parties to the transaction to obtain independent legal advice. [FN34] Finally, the notary must "defend" and be true to the law. [FN35]
Chapter 118 attempts to meet these general requirements
in several respects. Although the Florida civil-law notary is not required
to retain the original document signed by the parties and the notary,
the statute does require that the civil-law notary maintain a protocol
containing copies of every civil-law notary's authentic act, oath, attestation,
or solemnization. [FN36] For the security of the protocol and the records
contained in it, the notary must designate a successor custodian for the
protocol who must also be a civil-law notary. [FN37]
As a matter of traditional practice in Florida, in the case of a contract that the parties desire to have certified with an authentic act of a Florida civil-law notary, the lawyers for the parties are likely to negotiate and handle primary preparation of the contract. *734 Chapter 118 is silent about the Florida civil-law notary's duty to explain the law, defend the law, and give independent legal advice. [FN40] However, the rules of professional conduct regulating Florida lawyers define the terms under which a lawyer may enter into a representation of clients whose interests could be adverse. [FN41] As members of The Florida Bar, Florida civil-law notaries are required to avoid representation of a client with interests directly adverse to another client, unless the civil-law notary "reasonably believes the representation will not adversely affect the . . . responsibilities to and relationship with the other client( ) and each client consents after consultation." [FN42] The lawyer is not required to explain the law, but he or she must explain the implications of a common representation. [FN43]
In accordance with the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 4-2.2, the best practice for a Florida civil-law notary rendering an authentic act when two opposing parties are executing the document is to disclose that he or she represents neither party in the transaction against the other and also to obtain from the parties a waiver of the apparent conflict of interest. [FN44] It would further behoove the Florida civil-law notary to ensure that both parties have independent representation and to so indicate in the authentic act.
IV. PRACTICAL USES
A Florida civil-law notary is authorized to take oaths and declarations regarding the truth of material statements made in documents requiring an oath in the same manner as a notary public appointed pursuant to Chapter 117, Florida Statutes. [FN45] The Florida civil-law notary also may take an attestation requiring that the notary verify the identity and signature of the signor against a document verifying the signor's identity. [FN46] This too is common practice for the Chapter 117 notary public. The Florida civil-law notary may certify the truth of a fact that has been put *735 before the notary over and above the verification of the signature of the executing party. [FN47] This is a function notaries public in Florida often perform, such as when a copy of a document requires certification that it is a true copy, but which notaries public appointed under Chapter 117 actually are not authorized to perform without actually supervising the making of the copy. [FN48]
What distinguishes a Chapter 118 civil-law notary is that he or she is authorized to authenticate documents not merely by witnessing a signature or taking an oath, but also by verifying and confirming the truth of the statements contained within the documents. [FN49] When appropriate, the Florida civil-law notary also may verify and confirm the applicable law and include that verification in the authentic act. When serving this function, the civil-law notary acts as an independent third party to the transaction (if there is more than one party to the transaction). This process of verifying and confirming representations of fact and authenticity of a document can arise in an infinite variety of contexts when an individual uses a document from the United States to prove a fact in a foreign civil-law jurisdiction. A few examples reviewed here include verification of facts and law determining heirship in a real-estate context, proper execution of a power of attorney in connection with a sale of real property in a civil-law jurisdiction, and establishment of identity, maternity, paternity, or other relations in connection with litigation.
A. Real Estate/Probate
The St. Martin real-estate transaction described in the introduction is an example of a matter in both a probate and a real-estate context that would have been hard to resolve without the use of a Florida civil-law notary. The inability of the St. Martin notaire to accept at face value the authority of the order of the probate division of the Florida Circuit Court for the Fifth Judicial Circuit stymied the transaction. The probate order from the Fifth Circuit established the clear title of the property under Florida law. Were the property held as a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship or similar tenancy, the death certificate, together with *736 the Florida State Registrar's certification of authenticity and an apostille certifying the authority of the State Registrar to issue death certificates, would have been satisfactory to the St. Martin notary to establish clear title. [FN50] In this case, although the interest in the property was held by a husband and wife, their interest was held as tenants-in-common. Consequently, even though the death certificate could be recorded and accepted in St. Martin, it would not be instructive about the new, proper owner of Dad's interest in the property. The Florida probate order established the heirship, [FN51] but the notary's lack of familiarity with the Florida court system dictated that the authority of the court needed to be established. This is the job of neither the Florida Department of State nor the consulate. As discussed above, although it might be acceptable in the context of another United States jurisdiction, an opinion letter from a private attorney would not have legal meaning to satisfy the notaire in St. Martin. Rather, the establishment of the heirship through the use of a Florida civil-law notary's authentic act confirming the daughter- client's sworn affidavit and the order of the probate court provided the St. Martin notaire with the comfort needed to conclude the transaction.
The following authentication is an example of the way a civil-law notary can satisfy the requirements of the foreign notary. This example is based on the same fact pattern used in the Introduction. [FN52]
This authentication establishes the heirship of Mom by not only attaching and explaining the effect and appropriateness of the probate order leaving the entire estate of Dad to Mom, but also by attaching a certified copy of the death certificate and the affidavit of succession in support of the order. [FN53] An apostille indicating *739 the Registrar's authority from the Florida Department of State accompanied the attached death certificate. The civil-law notary certified the order of the probate court, also attached, as an authentic document sealed by the clerk of the Fifth Circuit court within the personal knowledge of the civil-law notary. Much of the content of the Authentication could have been the subject of an attorney's opinion letter. As an authentic act, the statements contained in the document are taken as true, and not merely matters of legal opinion from a biased lawyer. It is also significant to the weight given to the authentic act that an appointed and disinterested officer of the state made the statements rather than merely a private lawyer.
Based on the receipt of the authentication, the Order of Discharge passing one hundred percent of the estate of Dad to Mom was given effect, and the St. Martin real-estate transaction was timely concluded.
B. Real Property/Power of Attorney
One of the simplest examples of the use of a civil-law notary's authentic act is in the context of a power of attorney. In the following example the client wanted to give her brother, an Italian resident, the ability to sell property in Italy because she, the owner, was located in Florida. [FN54]
An Italian notaio prepared a power of attorney for the client's signature. To assure that the power of attorney signed in Florida has the intended effect in Italy, it was advisable to execute it before a civil-law notary and to do an authentic act confirming the identity of the giver of the power of attorney (Client) indicating the source of her identity. Although the civil-law notary in this case, Norma Brenne Vincent of Naples, Florida, [FN55] did not hold herself out as a speaker of Italian, the authentic act was nonetheless effective. For purposes of her notarization it was important not that she know Italian, but that the giver of the power of attorney understand that the legal effect of the power of attorney is the authorization to sell real property owned by her in Rome, Italy. Client's understanding is supported in the authentic act by the statement that she is an Italian national, that she wrote the power of attorney in her own handwriting, and that her doing so was at the advice of an Italian notary who had advised her directly.
Authentic acts are also useful when facts are needed for proof at trial in a civil-law jurisdiction. The following authentic act was prepared for use in an Italian court. [FN56] The parties conducted a trial to address an estate challenge. At trial, once it was determined that the heirs-at-law, in this case lineal descendants of the decedent, would receive the estate, it became necessary to establish their status as heirs. The client was the decedent's grandson who lived in Florida and whose father also had died during the *742 pendency of the Italian litigation. The authentic act stated the following:
In this instance the authentic act attaches the following three documents: (1) a birth certificate, (2) a death certificate, and (3) a passport copy. None of the documents, alone, establish the client's heirship. However, using the authentic act, the civil-law notary establishes for the court that the client is the decedent's grandson and heir.
D. Certification of Copies/Litigation
In many other contexts of foreign litigation, it is necessary to prove that litigation or arbitration is occurring in the United States. The following is an example of an authentic act used for the simple purpose of certifying the copies of the official arbitration documents for use in a court proceeding in Venezuela. [FN57]
In this case, the Florida civil-law notary, Alberto Xiques of Coral Gables, [FN58] properly documented his independent verification of the signor's identity and her relationship as attorney for a party in a Florida arbitration. Alberto Xiques states that he verified that the document presented to him bore a stamp with a file number corroborating the fact that it was an original and that he personally made the copy of the original attached to the authentic act. The foregoing example shows the proper manner of certifying a copy for use in a civil-law jurisdiction. With this Florida civil-law notary's notarization, the demand for arbitration attached to the authentic act was admitted into court as evidence in the Venezuelan proceeding without any further documentation or testimony. [FN59]
E. Other Contexts for Using the Florida Civil-law Notary Power
The practical uses of the Florida civil-law notarial power in Latin American and other civil-law countries are limited only by the extent of the requirement of or preference for notarization of public records and private documents in Latin American and other civil-law jurisdictions. Those uses commonly would include the following: (1) drafting, attesting, certifying, and authenticating deeds and other documents including real-property transfers, and powers of attorney relating to the transfer of real property (as shown in two of the above examples); (2) certifying transactions relating to negotiable instruments and bills of exchange; (3) incorporating, modifying, and dissolving corporations; (4) proving representations made in business contracts; (5) drafting wills and other testamentary documents and certifying documents for overseas estate claims; and (6) drafting formal papers relating to the carriage of cargo and international trade. [FN60] Other common uses include proving identity and relationship for spousal or family pension and survivorship benefits, authenticating school transcripts and work records, and authenticating certified copies of United States federal and state court judgments for domestication in a civil-law jurisdiction. The civil-law notary accomplishes this common use by proving the chain of custody from the United States clerk certifying the judgment to the foreign clerk at the place of domestication. Additionally, the civil-law notarial power is used to prove other chain of title and any circumstance where a proof of the authenticity and accuracy of a document is required, such as in foreign litigations. The Florida civil-law notary may even perform the solemnization of marriages outside of the territorial limits of the state of Florida. [FN61]
F. Using Authentic Acts in Florida
Since the passage of Chapter 118, little attention has been paid to the potential for use of authentic acts within the state of Florida. It appears from the Authors' research that there has not yet been a court test, at least at the appellate level, of Section 118.10(2) of the Chapter. The statute provides that "(t)he contents of an authentic act and matters incorporated therein shall be presumed correct." [FN62] This presumption should have the effect in the context of litigation, at least with respect to the facts asserted in the authentic act, of requiring a jury instruction as to the presumption, regardless of who has the ultimate burden of proof in the case. How the Florida courts ultimately give effect to the presumption remains to be seen. However, one practice point is clear: transactional lawyers who need to establish facts and recitations in the context of closing a transaction can strengthen their contract and create a legal presumption of correctness that will deter litigation by using the services of a Florida civil-law notary.
Furthermore, as discussed below, as Florida lawyers become familiar with the notion of a Florida civil-law notary and the meaning of an authentic act, the usefulness of the authentic acts of Florida civil-law notaries may be enhanced.
In certain respects, Florida civil-law notaries are limited in their ability to function in a manner comparable to notaries authorized under the law of Latin American and other civil-law jurisdictions. As discussed above, in most civil-law jurisdictions it is considered inconsistent and inappropriate for a civil-law notary to serve both as an advocate and a notary. [FN63] Because some members of the International Union allow advocates also to function as notaries, [FN64] the International Union seems to be giving the fledgling United States delegation a break. The International Union is allowing the National Association of Civil Law Notaries to function *747 as a permanent observer in the International Union on behalf of the United States, even though the United States does not have a separate profession of civil-law notaries. The International Union does assume, however, that when preparing authentic acts, civil-law notaries in the United States understand that they cannot wear both hats simultaneously.
VI. THE FUTURE OF UNITED STATES-BASED CIVIL-LAW NOTARIES
Currently, the existence of civil-law notaries authorized by United States state statutes is not widely known, and the civil-law notary practice is essentially confined to Florida and Alabama. [FN65] It has been more than five years since the original enactment of Chapter 118, and the number of civil-law notaries in Florida still remains less than one hundred. [FN66] However, there are signs that the civil-law notary will not only become better known in Florida and throughout the United States as a facilitator of international business, but may acquire significance within Florida jurisprudence as well.
Since the passage of the Florida statute in 1997, as the Florida Legislature has updated and refined Chapter 118, the National Association of Civil Law Notaries also has worked to develop a model state civil-law notary act (Model Act) for other states to follow. [FN67] While it is likely to continue to be refined, the Model Act represents the current thinking of how the civil-law notary can provide the most significant service within the confines of the American common-law tradition. However, the effort has not been without its critics. Certain attorney groups have questioned Section 2(2) of the Model Act, concerning the presumption *748 of correctness. This provision states that "(t)he contents of an authentic act and matters incorporated therein shall be presumed legal and accurate but such presumption may be rebutted in litigation upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence." [FN68] ncluding this heightened presumption would not only give civil-law notaries in United States jurisdictions a more powerful tool to seal documents and authenticate facts in a manner that would be useful in foreign civil-law jurisdictions, but also would give United States civil-law notaries a new, useful role to play in their own states analogous to the civil-law notaries' role within foreign civil-law jurisdictions. In most Latin American and other civil-law jurisdictions, a document such as a deed or will sealed by a civil-law notary carries a high presumption of authenticity and correctness.
Alabama, which was the second state--Florida being the first--to pass a modern civil-law notary statute, adopted the Model Act nearly verbatim. [FN69] However, faced with a challenge from the plaintiff's bar, the Alabama Legislature declined to include the Model Act's language raising the evidentiary standard for a challenge of the facts certified by an authentic act. [FN70] Since the passage of the Alabama statute, both Illinois and Texas have set in motion legislative initiatives to create their own civil-law notary professions. [FN71] Although the Illinois and Texas statutes also do not contain "clear and convincing evidence" language, they reflect a clear trend among progressive state legislatures to facilitate international transactions with Latin American countries through the bridging of the gap between American common-law and their civil-law legal traditions. [FN72] It is perhaps only a matter of time and increased familiarity with the civil-law notaries' practice before the heightened evidentiary standard or possibly the requirement *749 of a fraud finding to challenge authentic acts becomes more acceptable among United States state jurisdictions. [FN73]
Another development that may increase the acceptance and importance of civil- law notary practice is the creation of a role for the civil-law notary in the Gulf of Mexico States Accord ("GOMSA"). GOMSA is a joint agreement among the states of Mexico and the United States with coastline on the Gulf of Mexico. [FN74] The objective of GOMSA is to "encourag(e) trade, investment, transportation, communication, tourism, health and environmental issues, agriculture, educational and cultural exchange between the two geographic regions" (i.e., the Mexican and the United States gulf coast regions). [FN75] To this end the GOMSA Legal Issues Subcommittee has floated the following issues for the state GOMSA members to consider: (1) education of Mexican states about the existence of the civil-law notary in the United States gulf states--including Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, so far--and its similarities to the Mexican notario and distinction from the traditional common-law notary public as it exists in the United States states; (2) GOMSA's recognition of the heightened presumption of legality and accuracy of the representations and promises made in agreements executed between or among contracting parties in two or more GOMSA states authenticated by a civil-law notary; and (3) the possible creation of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for agreements entered into among parties in the GOMSA states in which the mediators or arbitrators would comprise civil-law notaries or panels of civil-law notaries from the GOMSA states. [FN76] The third proposal is attractive in part due to concerns among some United States companies. This concern is about the well-publicized perceptions of corruption encountered in some Mexican courts and concerns among Mexican firms about being hauled into a long and very expensive legal battle *750 in a United States court in the event of a dispute. The third proposal is also a natural way to exploit the statutorily imposed neutrality of a civil-law notary in both systems.
The foregoing review of the emergence of civil-law notary practice in Florida and other American states is not intended to endorse or otherwise pass judgment on the practice of the notary in the context of a civil-law legal tradition. The existence of the civil-law notary in Latin American and other civil-law jurisdictions is a fact. The unique role played by notaries in those jurisdictions has a long history and is not likely to change in the near future. The effort of American states to establish a profession with analogous authority in key respects to that of the true civil-law notary reflects a forward-thinking and well-intentioned initiative to bridge dissimilarity between Latin American and other civil-law jurisdictions and the common-law jurisdictions in the United States. The fledgling profession in Florida already has facilitated the resolution of many transactions between Florida and Latin American and other civil-law jurisdictions.
With time and experience, authentic acts by civil-law notaries in Florida and other United States states will gain wider awareness and acceptance among foreign civil-law notaries, attorneys, and also among United States-based attorneys needing to prove facts in foreign jurisdictions. Regardless of whether United States jurisdictions take the step to establish a heightened evidentiary standard for disproving facts established in court by a United States-licensed civil-law notary's authentic act, the civil-law notary will improve international practice. The ability to use an authentic act from a United States licensed civil-law notary to give a comfort level to foreign attorneys and notaries in inheritance proceedings, real-estate transactions, and other contexts reflects an enormous step forward in international practice between the United States and civil-law jurisdictions in Latin America and around the world.
MODEL CIVIL LAW NOTARY ACT
(Proposed by the National Association of Civil Law Notaries for Adoption in United States Jurisdictions)
Section 1. For purposes of this article, the following terms shall have the following meanings:
Section 3. The Secretary of State may adopt rules prescribing:
Section 5. If certification of a civil-law notary's authority is necessary for a particular document or transaction, it must be obtained *767 from the Secretary of State. Upon receipt of a written request from a civil-law notary and the fee prescribed by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State shall issue a certification of the civil-law notary's authority, in a form prescribed by the Secretary of State, which shall include a statement explaining the legal qualifications and authority of a civil-law notary in this state. The fee prescribed for the issuance of the certification under this section or an apostille may not exceed (twenty dollars ($20.00)) per document. The Secretary of State may adopt rules to implement this section.
Section 6. The provisions of this act are severable. If any part of this act is declared invalid or unconstitutional, the declaration shall not affect the part which remains.
Section 7. All laws or parts of laws in conflict with this act are repealed.
Section 8. This act shall become effective upon its passage and approval by the Governor, or upon its otherwise becoming a law.
Natl. Assn. Civ. L. Notaries, supra n. 67.
[FNa1]. © 2003, J. Brock McClane. All rights reserved. Shareholder, McClane Tessitore law firm, Orlando, Florida. J.D., George Washington University, 1988. Mr. McClane is board certified in international law. He serves on the executive council of The Florida Bar's International Law Section and is the Florida Civil-law Notary Liaison. In addition, Mr. McClane is a Florida Civil-law Notary.
[FNaa1]. © 2003, Michael A. Tessitore. All rights reserved. Shareholder, McClane Tessitore law firm, Orlando, Florida. J.D., high honors, University of Florida, Levin College of Law, 1992; LL.M., summa cum laude, International Law and Business, Stetson University College of Law, 1999.
[FN1]. The fact pattern is based on the facts surrounding the probate case In re Estate of Conan. See In re Estate of Conan, No. 99-417-CP (Fla. 5th Jud. Cir. Oct. 4, 1999) (providing some background on the case).
[FN2]. William H. Hill, Jr., Notary Practice in the United States and Florida 1 (unpublished ms. Sept. 16, 2002) (copy on file with Authors).
[FN3]. This is essentially fulfillment of the consulate's role in relation to the Hague Convention on the Legalization of Documents, which clearly identifies the governmental departments within signatory countries that can issue apostilles confirming the authority of a notarizing body. However, the issuers of apostilles typically will not certify the authority of a state or federal court and certainly will not comment on the court's jurisdiction.
[FN4]. Telephone Interview with Todd Kocourek, Founding Trustee of the Natl. Assn. of Civ. L. Notaries (Sept. 16, 2002).
[FN5]. Hill, supra n. 2, at 1.
[FN6]. Fla. Stat. §§ 118.10, 118.12 (2002); Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 1C-18.001 (2002). For the full text of the preceding statutes and administrative code, consult infra Appendix A.
[FN7]. See 1997 Fla. Laws ch. 97-241 (including the creation of Florida Statutes Section 117.20, regarding electronic notarization); id. 97- 278 (including the creation of the civil-law notary statute). The electronic- notary provision was later repealed in 1999 and is no longer in effect. 1999 Fla. Laws ch. 99-251.
[FN8]. Telephone Interview, supra n. 4.
[FN9]. See Fla. Stat. § 118.10 (including the amended changes). An exception would seem to be made for Louisiana and Québec. However, as civil- law jurisdictions within the common-law-based systems of the United States and Canada, Louisiana and Québec, not surprisingly, require the greater role of a civil-law notary. Philip Moscovitch, Focus on U.S. Civil Law Notaries, Les Carrières du Droit 65, 65 (2000).
[FN10]. Senator Harris later was elected to serve as Florida Secretary of State charged with, among other duties, overseeing Florida's international protocol and the appointment and oversight of Florida civil-law notaries. L. Janá Sigars-Malina, Chair's Message, 15 Intl. L.Q. (Newsltr. of Fla. B.) 1, 2 (Winter 1999).
[FN11]. Moscovitch, supra n. 9, at 65.
[FN13]. Id. at 65-66.
[FN14]. Id. at 66.
[FN15]. See Fla. Stat. § 117.01 (excluding a requirement for a high school diploma). In fairness to other common-law jurisdictions, it is important to note that not all common-law jurisdictions have allowed the standards of the notarial profession to erode as deeply as in the United States. For example, in Australia, common-law notaries public are required to be lawyers, to demonstrate high moral character, and to have practiced law for ten years. Interview with Angus B.C. Thornburn, Sol. & Notary Pub., Sydney, Australia (Oct. 16, 2002).
[FN16]. Alejandro M. Garro, The Role of the Notary in the Civil Law Tradition <http://www.lna.org/l_esprit/garro.htm> (accessed Jan. 9, 2003).
[FN18]. See infra app. A (providing the full text of Florida Statutes Section 118.10).
[FN19]. Interview with Me. Maurice Roueaux, Exec. Council Member, Intl. Union of Latin Notaries (Sept. 15, 2002).
[FN24]. Fla. Stat. § 118.10(1)(b).
[FN25]. For example, being licensed as both lawyer and notary is not permitted in the Czech Republic, Québec, or the German state of Bavaria. BNotk, German Notaries and How They Are Organised <http:// www.bnotk.de/Informationen_Presse_ueber_uns/wirole.htm> (accessed Mar. 11, 2003). It is, however, common in Puerto Rico and the German state of Hessen. Id.
[FN26]. Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 1C-18.001(2)(a)(1)-(9), (4)(a).
[FN27]. Id. (4)(b).
[FN28]. Id. (4)(c).
[FN29]. Professor Jeffrey Talpis, Exec. Council Member of the Intl. Union, Remarks, Key Qualities of a Civil-Law Notary in Québec and Internationally (Montreal, Québec, Canada, Sept. 16, 2002).
[FN36]. Fla. Stat. § 118.10(5).
[FN37]. Id. § 118.10(1)(c); Fla. Admin. Code Ann. r. 1C-18.001(4)(b).
[FN38]. Fla. Stat. § 118.10(1)(a).
[FN40]. Id. § 118.10.
[FN41]. Fla. R. Prof. Conduct 4-1.7(a) (2002).
[FN42]. Id. 4-1.7(c).
[FN43]. Id. 4-2.2.
[FN45]. Fla. Stat. § 118.10(7).
[FN47]. Hill, supra n. 2, at 3.
[FN49]. Fla. Stat. § 118.10(3).
[FN50]. Telephone Interview with Daniel Gidds, St. Martin Notaire, Notaire Associes (Feb. 2001).
[FN51]. Since the asset at issue was a parcel of real estate, the court of St. Martin also could have asserted jurisdiction over the inheritance issue and determined the proper heir to the real estate. However, the St. Martin court likely would have applied Florida law, which it is obviously not as well equipped to do as compared to a court in Florida, which was both the place of death and the place of Dad's domicile at death. With the estate issue clearly settled in the forum of the applicable law, updating the title was simply an act for the St. Martin notary.
[FN52]. Supra pt. I (discussing the fact pattern based on the probate case In re Estate of Conan); Work Product from J. Brock McClane, Esq., Fla. Civ. L. Notary, Authentication (Apr. 24, 2001) (copy on file with Authors).
[FN53]. The Affidavit
of Succession provides as follows:
[FN54]. Work Product from Norma Brenne Vincent, Esq., Fla. Civ. L. Notary, Authentic Act (July 24, 2002) (copy on file with Authors).
[FN55]. The Authors thank attorney and civil-law notary Norma Brenne Vincent for generously sharing her work product so that it can be used as an example for others to follow.
[FN56]. Work Product from J. Brock McClane, Esq., Fla. Civ. L. Notary, Authentic Act (Apr. 9, 2002).
[FN57]. Work Product from Alberto J. Xiques, Esq., Fla. Civ. L. Notary, Authentic Act (Feb. 2002) (copy on file with Authors).
[FN58]. The Authors thank attorney and civil-law notary, Alberto J. Xiques, for generously sharing his work product so that it can be used as an example for others to follow. Xieques has used authentic acts in Venezuela, Guatemala, Peru, and Spain.
[FN59]. Telephone Interview with Alberto J. Xiques, Esq., Fla. Civ. L. Notary (Sept. 2002).
[FN60]. Hill, supra n. 2, at 4.
[FN61]. Fla. Stat. § 118.10(3). Although the power to solemnize marriages also is given to Chapter 117 notaries public, the lack of a geographic limitation on the location of the exercise of an authentic act under Chapter 118 effectively enables Florida civil-law notaries to solemnize marriages in places where no other territorial law applies, such as on the high seas. See id. § 117.045 (authorizing a notary public to solemnize a marriage).
[FN62]. Id. § 118.10(3).
[FN63]. The policy is sometimes inconsistent even within the same country. For example, in Germany, some Lander require that a civil-law notary not be a practicing attorney. BNotk, supra n. 25. Others permit the dual role, so long as they are not wearing both hats in a particular transaction. Id.
[FN65]. While Louisiana has a long-established notarial profession that has played a distinct role in the law for certain transactions, such as conveyances of real estate, and was among the founding members of the International Union of Latin Notaries, the profession in Louisiana does not limit professional notaries to those with formal legal training. La. Stat. Ann. § 35:191 (1995 & Supp. 2003).
[FN66]. Natl. Assn. Civ. L. Notaries, Membership List <http:// www.nacln.org/MEM-List.html> (updated Sept. 4, 2002). There are currently ninety-three civil-law notaries in the United States. Id.
[FN67]. Natl. Assn. Civ. L. Notaries, Model Civil Law Notary Act <http:// www.nacln.org>; select Reference, select NACLN Reference, select Model Act, select Model Act for State Legislation (last modified Sept. 4, 2002). For the full text of the Model Civil Law Notary Act, consult infra Appendix B.
[FN68]. Id. § 2(2).
[FN69]. See infra app. A (providing the full text of Florida Statutes, Chapter 118); infra app. B (providing the full text of the Model Civil Law Notary Act).
[FN70]. See Ala. Code Ann. § 36-20-50 (LEXIS L. Publg. Supp. 2002) (providing the Alabama statute for International Notaries Public); infra app. B (providing the full text of the Model Civil Law Notary Act).
[FN71]. E-mail from Chuck Grainger, Gen. Counsel, Ala. Off. of the Sec. of St., to J. Brock McClane, Esq., Fla. Civ. L. Notary, Pending Legislation in Texas and Illinois (Mar. 7, 2003).
[FN73]. In essentially all Latin American and other civil-law jurisdictions, a party challenging a fact certified by a civil-law notary may be overcome only through a proof of fraud or similar wrongdoing on the part of the notary certifying the fact.
[FN74]. GOMSA, The Accord Background <http:// www.gomsa.org/accord/backround.html> (accessed Feb. 17, 2003).
[FN75]. GOMSA, The Accord <http://www.gomsa.org/accord/accord.html> (accessed Jan. 6, 2003).
[FN76]. Mark Kruse, Intl. Leg. Liaison, Fla. Dept. of St. & Panel Coord. of the Leg. Infrasturcture Subcomm. for the GOMSA Exec. Plan. Sess., Panel Proposals, GOMSA Executive Planning Session (Orlando, Fla., July 25, 2002).