As mobile Notaries look to expand their business offerings, more and more are discovering that witnessing court-mandated telephone hearings for non-criminal cases can be a lucrative service.
“Over the past year, I’ve received many requests to witness court-mandated telephone hearings,” said Florida Notary Herbert Guinup, who witnesses mostly child custody and support cases. For this service, Guinup charges a flat fee of $30 for the first hour, and $20 for every half hour after that.
Many small claims court judges are permitting testimony over the phone if a witness cannot be present for a variety of reasons, such as illness or disability, being out of state, or unable to take time from work. Some courts are requiring individuals to seek Notaries or other public officials in order to properly identify and swear them in for court proceedings.
How Do Telephone Depositions Work?
The process varies depending on the rules of your state, the court or circumstance. But generally the court sets up a conference call, which begins by having the Notary identify the individual providing testimony. The Notary may be asked to remain on the line with the individual throughout their testimony, serving as a witness.
In Florida, for example, Notaries are permitted to administer an oath or affirmation and confirm the identity of a witness for testimonies taken by telephone. State law requires the Notary to be physically present with the witness to administer the oath (oaths administered over the telephone with the Notary in one location and the oath-taker in another are not allowed). A Florida Notary also must file written certification with the presiding court officer confirming the identity of the witness and that the affirmation or oath was administered.
Florida law allows Notaries to charge $10 per notarial act, in this case to administer the oath. Since Florida law does not stipulate fees for witnessing the testimony, Notaries may set their own fees for this additional service. On top of that, a travel fee may be charged.
Florida also provides the basic language a Notary should use when administering the oath or affirmation of a witness.
Currently, there are 32 states that do not have any rules or regulations about telephone depositions, according to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). But that does not necessarily mean they cannot take place in those states.
In those states, the NCRA strongly recommends that the witness be “sworn in by a duly authorized oathgiver who was in the presence of the witness.” A Notary would certainly fit that description.
See the NCRA to find out if your state has rules for telephone depositions.
Notaries are the ideal candidates for this role because they are state-appointed public officials whose duty is to serve as impartial witnesses to any number of transactions. Identifying signers and administering oaths and affirmations are also part of their duties.
If you are asked to take part in a telephone deposition, here are a few tips for making sure it goes smoothly:
- Be clear on the exact nature of the services you are being asked to perform. Law in most states allows Notaries to administer an oath for a deposition. However, some states, such as Nevada, have repealed the authority of a Notary to “take” the deposition — that is, recording the testimony and transcribing it — or require a Notary to have additional credentials.
- Always have your Notary commission information with you, as it is likely to be requested by the court.
- Follow all state Notary laws or guidelines when it comes to properly identifying the witness.
- If you are required to administer an oath or affirmation, be sure the language you use complies with your state’s requirements, and that the witness replies aloud so their responses can be properly recorded.
- Know the fees state law allows you to charge for taking part in a deposition and when you can charge additional fees for ancillary services not specifically prescribed by law. Most states have maximum fees you may charge for administering an oath, but not for services such as “witnessing” the testimony and travel fees.