False Filings Update
August 28, 2018
Legislation aimed at addressing fraudulent liens and other documents filed against law enforcement and public officials took effect on August 28. HB 1769, sponsored by Rep. Kirk Mathews (R-Eureka), was passed by the Missouri Legislature and signed into law by former Governor Eric Greitens.
The bill creates the offense of filing fraudulent documents in Missouri law and includes enhanced penalties if the victim is a member of law enforcement or a public official.
RAM worked with the bill sponsor and supporters to arrive at the final language that helps law enforcement catch fraudulent filings without inhibiting Recorders’ ability to process documents. Beginning in January 2019, the legislation requires Recorders of Deeds to maintain a log of records received by their office that appear to be fraudulent or contain suspicious language. It is important to note that the statute gives no additional guidance to “suspicious language;” therefore, it is at the discretion of the Recorder to make that determination based on experience and other factors. Documents noted as suspicious will still be recorded as long as they meet the statutory requirements, and Recorders are not obligated to notify the filer that their document is flagged.
Within two business days of receiving a document that is logged as suspicious, the Recorder must notify the chief law enforcement officer and prosecutor. Logged documents will be open for review by the prosecuting or circuit attorney, county sheriff, police chief, and commissioned peace officers. Entries in the log must be maintained for a minimum of three years.
As with “suspicious language,” there is no specific direction on what constitutes a log. The law states Recorders are to impose a system in which seemingly suspicious documents are “logged or noted in a ledger, spreadsheet, or similar recording method.” Therefore, each Recorder may decide the most convenient method as long as the information is maintained for three years.
For victims of fraudulent documents, the law creates a process to obtain a court ruling stating the false document is invalid. Recorders will waive all fees for individuals to record these court rulings. The fee waiver provision essentially sets the recording fee at $0 when the court document is recorded. It is anticipated this will be a very small number of documents, but they serve as the marker within the record of a “voided” lien.
RAM worked with the supporters to mitigate negative impacts on Recorders as well as preserve the recording process. The requirements above constitute the least onerous system necessary to create the ultimate process, especially compared with the original language.