Warner attorney helps set standards for electronic deed registration procedures

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Electronic procedures are now thought to streamline nearly every business-related process and make it more efficient, so why not apply them to an obvious one: the way land records are recorded?

The Michigan State Legislature answered that question by passing the Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act (URPERA), to enable electronic recordkeeping by county officials such as Registers of Deeds, and to set standards for that recording.

The 2010 bill, introduced by former State Senator Gerald Van Woerkom, also legislates into existence an electronic recording commission, to “adopt standards to implement this act.”

Enter Christian Meyer of Warner, Norcross and Judd, whom Governor Snyder appointed in 2011 and reappointed last month to fill the slot on the seven-person commission reserved for “an attorney licensed to practice law in this state and whose practice emphasizes real property matters.”

Meyer was asked to serve on the commission shortly after the bill became law. “I think one of the great things about being in a firm like this and in a city like Grand Rapids is that if someone sees
that you do good work, they ask you to serve in this or that capacity,” Meyer says. “It’s been really rewarding, serving on this commission.”

He readily admits that the subject matter may not be compelling for everyone, but he seems to take  pride in the in-depth study the commission work required of electronic recording, which affects his own practice so greatly.

Meyer’s main focus is on representing buyers and sellers in commercial and industrial property transactions, including sales, purchases, and leasing (including landlord/tenant), and in the real
estate aspects of corporate mergers and acquisitions. His broad practice includes litigation as well, such as zoning appeals and other local government matters, construction liens and foreclosures, title, and use/access disputes.

Meyer says he knew early on that he would enjoy working in real estate. “In the first year of law school, I really liked the property class, and then I clerked here at Warner and really enjoyed working with the real estate practice group.”

A Grand Rapids native, Meyer received his B.A. from Calvin College before going off to the University of Notre Dame to receive an M.A. He then went to the University of Virginia to receive his Juris Doctor, and clerked  for the Honorable Kenneth L. Rysamp in the Southern District of Florida U.S. District Court before returning here.

He has been honored in Real Estate Law in the Best Lawyers in America, and has served as author and co-author of various articles and chapters in books and periodicals.

Inspired by the advice of then-Mayor John Logie, who continued with Warner Norcross while he was in office, given him when he was an associate, Meyer both lives in Grand Rapids and serves on boards in Grand Rapids. These include the Inter-Urban Transit Partnership from 1999-2006, and the Ottawa Hills Neighborhood Association’s task force regarding the sale of the former Iroquois Middle School from 2006-2010.

He says he learned a lot about that old building’s history and felt good about its eventual sale to Grand Rapids Christian Schools. “My wife and I still live in Ottawa Hills,” he says, “and my three children go to Grand Rapids Christian.”

When Meyer was called on to serve the state, he set aside other tasks and concentrated on doing the best job he could for the Electronic Recording Commission. “We’re on target to finish the standards by the end of 2013,” he says, noting that he expects that the group will finalize the draft report at its February meeting.

“At our November meeting we went over the previous draft, and one of the members took it back to rewrite it based on our comments. We really hope that in February we can vote on a final draft. Then it will go out for comment, and probably our May meeting will be a hearing on what we’re proposing.”

Kent County Clerk and Register of Deeds Mary Hollinrake, whose office is a parking lot away from Meyer’s, is also on the commission. In fact, she was elected chair — “I must have left the room,” she jokes. Kent County was one of the pioneers in instituting electronic recording, completing the process in 2009, for most documents. She credits Chief Deputy Register of Deeds Jerry Czaja with making the “workflow” adjustments necessitated by electronic recording of Warranties, which took about another year.

Hollinrake, along with Czaja, did a lot of the work on the first two of the commission’s five charges: investigating “the standards and practices of other jurisdictions,” including other states, and “the most recent standards promulgated by national standard-setting bodies.”

Chief among those national bodies is PRIA, the Property Records Industry Association. A white paper published by PRIA, “The Models of eRecording, a Continuum of Electronic Recording,” presented three models. The commission included these models in its current draft report, as recommendations for how Registers of Deeds might proceed.

They are, briefly: Model 1, where “scanned paper” documents create electronic images which do not include any indexing data; Model 2, which includes both scanned paper and electronic documents. where XML (or eXtensible Markup Language) is not “embedded,” which does allow for automating indexing data entry, but requires careful review; and Model 3, where XML is embedded into “truly” electronic documents.

However, Hollinrake says that, as  counties update their software, most vendors will include the “infrastructure” necessary to accept truly electronic documents. For the most part, the documents themselves are provided by third-party “trusted providers” — there are three in Michigan — who take care of verifying and making secure the data along with electronic signatures.

The next two charges of the commission are to consider “the views of interested persons and governmental officials and entities,” and “the needs of counties of varying size, population, and resources.”

The composition of the commission helped ensure this would take place. The four Registers of Deeds included are from widely differing counties, from Kent to Newaygo, and there are also slots for one person from the banking industry, one from the land title industry, and the real estate attorney slot Christian Meyer fills.

Public comment will help meet those goals as well. Meyer says the commissioners will broadcast the opportunity to comment to their constituent groups, as will the State.

Finally, the commission was called to address “information security protection” to be sure that the documents are accurate and “resistant to tampering.” Fortunately, other states, as well as PRIA, have years of experience in security measures that the commission was able to access and recommend.