After years of apparently not attending to the duty, the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee on Monday voted to give the boot to more than 30 notaries public, following an aggressive move by Gov. Rick Scott against people who violated their responsibilities or were disqualified for other reasons.
No one on the Senate panel remembered being a part of a similar hearing, with veteran Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who chairs the committee, saying it was something “even I have never seen in the Florida Senate before.”
The 33 notaries whose removal was recommended on Monday now head to the full Senate, which will consider evidence that they failed to properly handle their duties or had been convicted or had adjudications withheld on charges that disqualified them from holding office.
Two of the notaries joined teleconferences with the committee—getting sworn in over the phone—to contest their removals.
William Gladden Jr., a Korean War veteran who uses a wheelchair and is the only notary in his part of Apopka, said that his approval of a document at the center of his case was likely a fraud or a forgery. Gladden purportedly notarized a fraudulent lease agreement in Apopka. Senators questioned how someone would have obtained one of the stamps notaries use to authenticate documents.
“Here again, I will be honest with you: I’m a little careless about leaving my stamps around,” Gladden said.
The committee eventually postponed the case to give Gladden an opportunity to reach a deal with Scott’s office. Otherwise, the committee could act at its next meeting in two weeks, though there were already some on the panel who wanted to allow Gladden to keep his post.
“My advice is you need to talk to the governor’s office in the next two weeks and enter into an agreement to remediate this in the future if you want to keep your notary position,” Latvala said.
The hearing prompted Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, to scold a lawyer from Scott’s office for bringing the case in the first place.
“We need to stop wasting our time trying to take away licenses from men in wheelchairs who served our country,” Clemens began, as groans and protests from GOP members of the panel made it difficult for him to finish the statement.
“It is a really important job,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a few moments later. ” … These are really serious functions these folks perform and if we can’t trust that system in our state to validate documents, we don’t have a system.”
The committee voted 8-2 to strip notary public duties from Maria Pabon, who admitted that she took the word of people she knew and notarized a document for a man who said he had left his driver’s license elsewhere.
“I have had my notary commission for almost 13 years, and this is the first time that I have had misconduct,” Pabon wrote in a letter to the Senate.
In addition to Pabon, the committee agreed to recommend removing 32 other notaries from their positions. Eleven had either resigned or had their commissions expire. Lawmakers held off on charges in another 28 cases because neither Scott’s office nor the Senate had been able to reach the notaries to notify them of the hearing.
The moves come after an Orlando television station reported in July about problems with the notary public system.
A spokesman for Scott did not respond directly when asked why the governor’s office had launched its investigations into notary complaints.
“Our general counsel’s office works diligently with law enforcement agencies and others to protect Florida families from notary fraud,” spokesman John Tupps said in an email. “We are taking steps to suspend or remove notaries reported to have been convicted of criminal offenses or who have violated notary standards.”