March 9, 2020.
I wrote the original article about three years ago. In its current state it is confusing and hard to follow. I have rewritten the article. Below is the new article followed by a link to the old one. The old article is preserved for the sake of completeness only. Note that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, merely a discussion of law.
The New York State Department of State oversees the Division of Licensing, which licenses and oversees our notary public licenses, which allows us to swear witnesses. The DOS also publishes a notary law packet which is an amalgam and presentation of the various bodies of law that govern notaries public in New York State. In the 2017 and 2019 versions, the packet cites the 1915 case Matter of Napolis, which states in pertinent part that oaths may not be given over the phone. About 90 years later, New York’s CPLR was amended with CPLR 3113(d), which states in pertinent part that “unless otherwise stipulated to by the parties, the officer administering the oath shall be physically present at the place of the deposition…” As far as I can tell as a layperson, this makes it effectively legal for parties to stipulate that the officer administering the oath does not have to be physically present. In a 2017 correspondence with the DOS, I brought up this issue, and the DOS stated, in pertinent part, “with respect to civil depositions, a notary may under the specific provisions of Article 31 of the CPLR and in compliance
therewith, swear in a remote witnesses…” [sic]. In a June 2019 correspondence with the DOS, I asked them to amend the notary law packet to include CPLR 3113(d). They stated they would take my comment under consideration.
Some seasoned reporters are uncomfortable with the remote swearing of witnesses with the law and DOS materials as they are, and they ask the attorneys to deem that the witness be sworn instead of swearing them in. As a reporter and citizen, it’s my opinion that if you are going to ask them to deem the witness sworn, you should change the verbiage in your swear-in paragraph or cert to reflect that. If you have them stipulate to the remote swearing under CPLR 3113(d), you should ensure they state that on the record or that it is in your stipulation page. Note that all of this only governs depositions taken under the CPLR. In federal cases, Rule 30(b)(5) and rules like it may hold authority. Like its CPLR counterpart, FRCP Rule 30(b)(5) has language “unless the parties stipulate otherwise…” That said, I have never specifically asked the DOS about remote swearing under the FRCP.
I have done this research so that if one of us is ever in trouble, we have a fighting chance. There are a lot of newbies out there who do not know there’s supposed to be a stipulation, and if we can help just one not get into trouble, that’s important to me.
In 2020, Executive Order 202.7 was issued. You can read about it here.
In 2020, Dineen Squillante cowrote an article about the importance of oaths. The article, in part, revealed that there could be liability if a judge rules that a deposition is or was an unsworn deposition. Read it on the Vermont Bar’s Summer 2020 issue, page 32.