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January 19, 2016

Notary: Don’t confuse Observation with Opinion

Notary: Don’t confuse Observation with Opinion
“Hello, Police Department; I would like to report a crime in progress. I saw a person climbing a fence so he could rob the house”. The Observation is “person climbing a fence”, the Opinion is “so he could rob the house”. A trained police officer knows this. It’s not a SWAT Team, with heavy weapons job. Possibly the climber is a child after a home run hit baseball. In our work as notaries there is also a need for accurate reporting of Observations (things heard and things seen). Opinions are also “useful” but care must be taken to differentiate between the two.

When we observe we see facts, however it’s easy to internalize those facts; and warp them with our preconceptions and personal experiences. The migration from fact observation to opinion is not instantaneous. The moment you observe something that might be worthy of reporting later is the time to record that event. Police carry their ever handy “record book” and write down the silly things said to them at a traffic stop. They record Facts, as close in time to the event as possible. Hours later that recollection is tainted and skewed by opinions.

Hello Title? – They won’t sign because they think the numbers are “ripping them off”. It’s not likely that they used those exact words. Give Title the true facts: “They mentioned that the escrow is two hundred dollars too high and that the interest rate on the note is half a point greater than expected”. Of course it’s better to have borrower and Title converse directly.

Perhaps the most critical time for careful wording between Observation and Opinion is when you are reviewing the documents with a borrower. They are asking questions. Often the question is one that must be “kicked upstairs”; but many can be answered by a skilled notary. “Here you can see on the Truth In Lending Disclosure that your Annual Percentage Rate is 3.25%”. Good observation in answer to a specific “where is it” question. Adding “Wow, that’s a low one, the last few that I processed were over 4%”; that’s a very bad statement of opinion.

Being the “only face that they see”; Loan Officers are very interested in how the session “went”. Were they happy? Were there issues? Here you have a bit more leeway in answering. Though the LO is asking for your opinions; it’s best to mainly provide facts. We started on time, they had their IDs ready. Borrower seemed a bit nervous (common for big buck events), they asked me to find some specific numbers and had no objections. All in all, I feel the session went well. Notice the “I feel” – clearly separating observation of events from personal opinion.

As Government Officials we are expected to be accurate and impartial. That requirement goes beyond setting aside any prejudice or preconceptions. What we say, written or verbal should be factual; unless clearly stated as opinion. And, there is little room for opinion in the vast majority of our official duties. Officer, don’t you agree with me that the accident was caused by the other driver? The Police Officer will Never agree, or voice an opinion. They are highly trained in the art of recording facts. Possibly, the PO will record that you asked such a silly question!

Furthermore, the old “what you say can and will be used against you in a court of law” applies to whatever a Notary Public states. The public image of us is one of impartial truthfulness. A few casual or (I hope not) flippant words; might sway a decision. If that person loses money based on something you said, they will want to recover that loss from you. Stick to the facts.


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