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Notary admits not witnessing signatures

Gwen Miller did not give the papers to her, the notary says.

Gwen Miller did not give the papers to her, the notary says.

TAMPA — A woman who notarized political party paperwork originated by City Council member Gwen Miller said Monday she did so without personally witnessing the signatures.

State law forbids that.

Dianne Hart said she can't remember who gave her the forms to notarize. But it wasn't Miller, she said.

"I have not seen or met Gwen about them at any time," Hart said.

The forms put several city workers on today's ballot as candidates for representatives to the Hills­borough County Democratic Party, even though some say they had no interest in the positions.

Some City Council staff members say Miller asked them to sign a form to help her husband, former state Sen. Les Miller.

They were later surprised to discover it meant they were running for Democratic Party positions.

"I thought for sure everybody knew what they were signing," Hart said.

Les Miller has said he may run to lead the local or state Democratic Party. He would need the support of others in the party to win those posts.

Mark Herron, a Tallahassee lawyer and expert on Florida ethics and elections law, said that as a City Council member Miller may have broken state law by asking the council staff to support her husband.

"It's not within that person's job description to go around and ask people to help in a political race, whether it's a party race or partisan," he said.

The Millers did not return calls for comment.

Becoming a notary in Florida requires completing three hours of training, paying a $39 application fee, receiving a notary bond from a licensed surety firm and taking an oath of office.

Notaries witness the signing of documents and administer oaths to deter fraud. Part of the responsibility of notaries is to be sure people entering agreements do so willingly.

Notarizing a document without witnessing signatures is a civil infraction punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, according to the Florida statutes.

Heather Slager, notary education coordinator for Gov. Charlie Crist, said it's up to the courts to determine whether civil infractions have occurred.

"All we do here is take disciplinary action," she said.

She said she gets up to 40 complaints a month about notaries. Those result in 20 or so reprimands and about a half-dozen requests for resignation.

In July, Hart's husband filed a complaint against her claiming she notarized a document signed by her daughter, also forbidden by law.

Hart responded to the complaint by saying she made a mistake in notarizing the document, and that her husband made the complaint because they are in the middle of a "nasty" divorce.

Meanwhile, some Hillsborough voters today will consider candidates who would rather not have their support.

Belinda Allen, an aide to council member Tom Scott, said if she wins she has no plans to fulfill the duties of the office, which includes canvassing neighborhoods in support of Democratic candidates.

Mary Bryan, an aide to council member Charlie Miranda, said she's worried she may defeat an opponent who wants the post.

"I could do a good job because I'm a pretty hard worker," she said. "But I don't think I'm interested."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Notary admits not witnessing signatures 08/25/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 29, 2008 3:51pm]
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