California CPA Professional License Defense

Your license means everything to you. We get it. As attorneys, we must be licensed, too. That piece of paper is important for lots of reasons. It tells your customers that you're trained. It tells your community that you're trustworthy. On a fundamental level, though, it's your permission to work as a CPA in the state of California.  

So, any time your license is under threat, it's a big deal.  

When we say it's a “big deal,” what we mean is you must take it seriously.  

  • You have to take the time to understand the charges.  
  • You need to research the process for defending yourself.  
  • And you're going to need help, the best help you can find. 

There's no bureaucracy quite like California bureaucracy, and you know just how difficult it can be to navigate the California Board of Accountancy (CBA) system. Just renewing your license can feel like a full-time job. Defending yourself from a complaint can be completely overwhelming.  

Below, we get into just some of what you can expect if you're being investigated. The most important thing you need to know, though, is that you don't have to go through this process alone. The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team was created to help working professionals deal with threats to their licenses. We know the law. We also know how the California licensing system works. Most important of all, we believe in what you do, and we're ready to put what we know to work to protect your livelihood. 

Whether you're in Crescent City or San Diego, Needles, Alturas, or somewhere in between, you can contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 

888-535-3686 or by filling out our online questionnaire.  

Just What Can Put Your CPA License at Risk? 

California CPAs are under the jurisdiction of the California CBA, which acts in accordance with state law, including the California Accountancy Act and a set of CBA regulations

As you know, the list of rules for California CPAs is long and includes everything from how many continuing education hours you need to renew your license (80 every two years) to how the Peer Review system should work. As a result, we can't possibly tell you all the potential risks to your CPA license. What we can tell you, though, is the most common sort of complaint the CBA sees each year.  

  • Negligence and Incompetence 
  • Fraud, Deceit, and Misrepresentation 
  • Failure to Follow Professional Standards 
  • Criminal Convictions 
  • Administrative Actions by Other Government Authorities (SEC, IRS, etc.) 
  • Administrative Violations Related to License Application and Renewal 

The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have experience dealing with all of these complaints. They've worked with hundreds of professionals on all types of license issues and are competent to deal with any issue you might be facing as a CPA. 

The Disciplinary Process for CPAs in California 

The CBA's disciplinary process can be quite involved. That's one reason why it's crucial you have a Lento Law Firm attorney on your side. Cases generally start with a complaint, which then leads to an Investigation. An investigation can lead to citations.  

If the investigation should uncover evidence that you've violated the law, you're then subject to an additional adjudication process involving a formal hearing.  


Let's start by talking about complaints. Complaints can come from a wide variety of sources, including 

  • Consumers 
  • Professional Societies 
  • Law Enforcement Agencies 
  • Other Government Agencies 

Additionally, state law gives the CBA authority to pursue investigations under its own authority. As the License Enforcement Handbook notes, the Board generates numerous "internal referrals" each year through its own Enforcement Division as well as the Licensing Division and various CBA Committees. The Enforcement Division, for instance, keeps a close eye on the news and social media, looking for any information that could implicate wrongdoing by individuals or companies. 


The CBA doesn't act on every complaint, of course. A complaint must be both credible and actionable. The Board isn't likely to intervene in a simple fee dispute, for instance, or to investigate you because a customer felt you were too brusque. Often, in fact, there are opportunities for your Lento Law Firm attorney to intervene early in a case and work out misunderstandings before they become full-blown investigations. 

Any time you are under investigation, though, the CBA must provide you with notice of that investigation. This notice should include details of the allegations against you, a list of your due process rights, and a request for you to respond in writing to the complaint. Additionally, the CBA has the authority to make multiple requests for information and materials. In fact, it can require you to attend an Investigative Hearing (IH) to provide your perspective on the situation and to answer any questions Board members may have.  

Further, the Board has broad authority to pursue any and all avenues of investigation. It can subpoena witnesses and may very well talk to your colleagues, supervisors, and other clients. 

Among your due process rights, though, you have the right to a presumption of innocence, and the Board cannot find you guilty unless it has "clear and convincing" evidence of your guilt.  

During the investigative stage, the law does not specifically entitle you to legal representation. However, it is always in your best interest to have a Lento Law Firm attorney at your side. They may be able to accompany you to any investigative meetings or hearings, but beyond this, they can 

  • Work with you to develop a defense strategy 
  • Draft your response to the charges 
  • Help you formulate answers to questions 
  • Gather and submit evidence in support of your case 
  • Negotiate with all parties on your behalf 

Most importantly, even at this early stage in a case, they can make sure the CBA respects your rights and gives you a fair hearing. Keep in mind that you are required by law to cooperate with investigators. Failure to do so is its own code violation. You want to make sure, though, that you don't do anything while cooperating that could harm your case.  

Investigative Results 

The Enforcement Handbook notes that the timeline for investigations can vary widely depending on the exact nature of the charges. Ultimately, though, the Board has three options to resolve the investigation. 

  • Closure: The Board can simply close the case, either because it does not have enough evidence to substantiate the complaint or because it simply lacks jurisdiction over the particular complaint. 
  • Citation: The Board can choose to issue you a citation. Citations are not considered formal disciplinary action. However, they may involve fines as well as other corrective measures. Here again, failure to follow the terms of the citation can result in more serious disciplinary action. 
  • Formal Discipline: Finally, if investigators determine you may have violated some aspect of the Accountancy Act, CBA regulations, or both, they refer the matter to the California Attorney General's office for preparation of a formal accusation. 

Formal Discipline 

Should the CBA decide to instigate proceedings against you, the formal discipline process has several parts.  

  • First, the Attorney General prepares a formal written accusation against you. This accusation is then officially served on you at your residence. At the same time, you are served with a Notice of Defense. If you plan to contest the charges against you, you must return this document to the CBA within fifteen days. 
  • In formal discipline cases, you are entitled to legal representation, though the CBA will not provide you with an attorney. This means someone from the Lento Law Firm can present your entire case on your behalf.  
  • You can choose not to respond to the Notice of Defense, in which case, the CBA issues a "default decision." You may also attempt to negotiate a "stipulated settlement," a resolution with a lesser penalty that both parties accept. You can also request a formal hearing in order to present your full defense. 
  • CBA hearings are conducted through California's Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). In general, these hearings work like civil trials and take place before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You have the right to make opening and closing statements, to enter evidence, to subpoena witnesses, and to cross-examine any witnesses against you. Your Lento Law Firm attorney can handle all of this on your behalf. 
  • Ultimately, the ALJ is tasked with rendering a decision in the case and assigning any penalties as necessary. The CBA then has the option to adopt this decision or reduce the proposed penalty. 
  • Finally, you have the right to file a Petition for Reconsideration, basically an appeal of the ALJ's decision, if you disagree with that decision. The CBA can reconsider the case itself or may assign it to a new ALJ.  


There's a lot on the line any time someone lodges a complaint against you with the CBA. If the case should make it to a formal disciplinary hearing, though, the potential penalties can be especially steep. 

First violations carry a penalty of up to $5,000, while second offense penalties can reach $10,000. Further, if you're found to have violated certain provisions of the California Accountancy Act, you can be fined up to $50,000 for a first offense. Companies can be fined up to $1,000,000. 

Additionally, the CBA maintains a lengthy set of Disciplinary Guidelines that set corrective penalties for offenses. These penalties can include anything from a cease and desist letter to probation, continuing education courses, and full license suspension. 

Why You Need Someone from the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team 

By this point, it should be reasonably clear why you need help from the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. As a reminder, though:  

  • Absolutely everything is at stake. Losing your license means finding an alternative career, but even lesser penalties can do significant damage to your career. Suspension can mean an interruption in your livelihood. Even something as minor as an official sanction can hurt business. Citations are publicly searchable in California. 
  • These cases are complex. Everything about how the CBA deals with complaints is a matter of California law, and finding your way through an investigation, let alone a formal disciplinary hearing, requires an extensive background in that law. Only someone from the Lento Law Firm can help you navigate the system and use it to your best advantage. 
  • The CBA is not on your side in cases like these. The CBA offers a number of great services for California CPAs, and it advocates for appropriate rules and legislation. If you're being investigated, though, the CBA is your adversary. You need someone who is on your side and has your best interests in mind. 

The law gives you the right to an attorney if you're defending yourself from formal charges. You should take advantage of it. Certainly, you're smart, and you're an expert at accounting. You're not an attorney, though, and when you're facing misconduct charges, you need an attorney.  

Not just any attorney will do, though. You may be tempted, for example, to hire a family or local attorney. Like any other professionals, local attorneys are skilled at what they do. A license defense, though—especially for an accounting license—involves very particular areas of the law. Local attorneys aren't usually in a position to take on these issues, and they rarely have experience trying these cases. 

The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm do. The Lento Law Firm was built to help professionals respond to charges. We've represented hundreds of professionals, defending them against every type of charge. The bottom line is that no one is better qualified to take your case. 

What Can the Lento Law Firm Do for You? 

The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team can help you defend yourself from any charges that might threaten your CPA license. Because we understand the California state licensing system, we can help with other licensing issues as well. 

  • If you've already been through a hearing and been issued a sanction, we can help you to appeal that sanction. 
  • If you've been denied a license, we can work with you to challenge the CBA's decision. 
  • If you're moving from another state, we can guide you through the process of obtaining your California license. 

And we work with CPAs across the state, including in 

  • L.A. 
  • San Francisco 
  • San Diego 
  • Sacramento 
  • Long Beach 
  • Bakersfield 
  • Riverside 
  • Santa Barbara 
  • Santa Monica 
  • Irvine 
  • Santa Rosa 
  • Stockton 
  • Monterey 
  • Palo Alto 

To find out more about exactly what the Lento Law Firm can do for you, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or use our online form to tell us more about your case. 


Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are committed to answering your questions about Physician License Defense, Nursing License Defense, Pharmacist License Defense, Psychologist and Psychiatrist License Defense, Dental License Defense, Chiropractic License Defense, Real Estate License Defense, Professional Counseling License Defense, and Other Professional Licenses law issues nationwide.
The Lento Law Firm will gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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