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Dave Barry's recent article poking fun at notaries public created quite a stir among some of the 90,000 members of our organization, the National Notary Association (NNA). While we appreciate his humor and satirical wit, we also want to correct a mistaken image of the notary.

Notaries deserve more respect. Most people - including Barry, apparently - don't realize what an important role notaries play in protecting the public against document fraud. Who would pay $200,000 for a house without being sure of the seller's identity? Who would lend money holding a deed as collateral unless convinced the deed's signature was not forged? It is the notary's responsibility to make sure the signers are really who they say they are; that they are freely signing the document; and that they understand what they are signing.And the notary accepts full and unlimited financial responsibility for the signer's identity every time he or she affixes an official seal and signature to a document.

Without notaries, our courts would quickly clog with challenges to documents whose signatures have been forged, coerced or incompetently made. Your readers should know that most notaries are dedicated to protecting them from fraud.

As a nonprofit educational organization, the NNA teaches fraud-deterrent techniques to the nation's 4.5 million notaries. Anyone who has been a victim of a forged document knows how crucial it is that notaries perform their job with extreme care.

The much misunderstood and maligned notary deserves a fairer and more balanced treatment from your newspaper.

Milton G. Valera, president

National Notary Association

Canoga Park, Calif.