Case Studies: Service Professionals

Accountant Defends Disciplinary Charges Relating to Mental Health

The Board of Accountancy for a Pacific Coast state issued disciplinary charges against a prominent senior partner in a significant metropolitan area-certified public accounting firm. The charges alleged that the CPA was presently unfit to continue in accounting practice relative to a brief mental health hospitalization after a sleeping pill overdose, a suspected suicide attempt, and acute depression. Board of accountancy officials had seen a press report of the CPA's hospitalization and mental health issues, which the CPA had publicly acknowledged at a charity event. The CPA had taken a leave of absence from the accounting firm. But the CPA planned to return imminently and did not want a license suspension, revocation, or conditions to interfere with the CPA's liberty to serve significant clients with whom the CPA had long-standing relationships. The CPA retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to defend the charges and seek a negotiated resolution. The Defense Team and client CPA agreed on a strategy of continual mental health assessment and remedial treatment as compromise conditions for immediate reinstatement. The Team presented the CPA's compromise offer at an informal conference the Team requested and arranged. The Board of accountancy's director also attended the conference, approving the request as in everyone's best interest, including the public's interest in secure, competent, and confidential accounting services. The Board of Accountancy dismissed the charges under a consent agreement and conditions with which the client CPA readily complied out of the CPA's own personal mental health interest.

Certified Financial Planner Successfully Defends Undisclosed Fees Charges

A certified financial planner in a solo practice serving a resort and retirement community client population along the Atlantic coast retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to defend disciplinary charges. The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Board's disciplinary charges alleged the planner's failure to disclose to clients certain third-party interests and fees those third parties paid to the planner related to client transactions. Certified Financial Planner standards generally require disclosure of third-party fees. The charges alleged that the financial planner's elderly client couple had complained to the CFP Board when the couple moved their accounts to a new financial planner who pointed out the undisclosed fees and alleged violations. The charges demanded that the planner turn over the couple's client file and all associated notes and records. The Lento Law Firm's Defense Team helped the client planner identify, assemble, organize, copy, and turn over copies of the file and associated records, including critical electronic communications. The Defense Team's consulting accounting expert analyzed those records, confirming that the planner had disclosed the fees in electronic communications and obtained the couple's acknowledgment and consent. The disciplinary officials acknowledged that the couple had not made the officials aware of any electronic communications. After the officials conferred with the complaining couple, disclosing the communications, the officials dismissed the disciplinary charges. The strategy of employing skilled forensic expert review was the key factor in the successful defense.

Funeral Director Defeats License Disciplinary Charges Alleging Mishandling of Remains

The funeral board in a South Atlantic Coast state notified a funeral director of disciplinary charges. The charges alleged the director's mishandling of a deceased's remains. The charges identified the complainant family but not the nature of the alleged mishandling. The director retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team after the family rebuffed the director's conciliatory outreach, and state disciplinary officials failed to respond to the director's request for a specification of the charges. The Defense Team invoked state administrative rules requiring the funeral board to specify the nature of the charges. The required specification revealed that the family had complained that the funeral director had failed to prepare the deceased bodies for an open viewing and then had cremated the body contrary to the family's instructions. With that disclosure, the Defense Team and client director were able to supply disciplinary officials with the funeral and mortuary services contract, documentation, and estate representative's instructions, acknowledgment, and signature approving the closed casket and subsequent cremation. The Defense Team's presentation to disciplinary officials further showed that the complaining family members were not the estate's representative under the decedent's will. In light of the family conflict and undisputed evidence, the funeral board dismissed the charges.

Architect Successfully Defends Ethics Charges of Stamping Unsupervised Drawings

The architectural registration board in a Northwest state served a disciplinary notice on a licensed architect. The notice alleged that the architect had run a fraudulent scheme of stamping the drawings of unlicensed draftsmen and designers to falsely and fraudulently indicate that the licensed architect had completed or supervised and approved the drawings. Architectural licensing standards and architect ethics permit the stamping of another's drawing only when the architect closely supervises and approves the competency and safety of the drawing. The architect retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team after registration board officials rebuffed the architect's inquiries regarding the specifics of the allegations. The Defense Team used the discovery rules for administrative licensing proceedings to obtain the registration board's evidence identifying the disputed stampings. The disclosure enabled the architect and Defense Team to compile records and obtain attested statements from the one involved draftsman and two involved designers. The architect had, in fact, worked closely with those three professionals who, though unlicensed, had the considerable skill and significant experience working as subcontractors or employees for the architect. The disputed drawings were all done in-house at the architect's office, where the architect had closely followed the drawing's progress. The Defense Team also obtained an architect consultant's expert review confirming the safe and competent design the drawings reflected. The hearing panel dismissed the disciplinary charges on that evidence, leaving the architect's license intact and the record clear.

Insurance Agent Avoids License Discipline over Failing to Pay Child Support

A South Central state's insurance board issued disciplinary charges against an insurance agent serving a large metropolitan area. The charges alleged that the insurance agent had violated the state's version of the Producer License Model Act. The specific charge was that the insurance agent had not paid court-ordered child support. The state's provision mandated professional license suspension in the event of that failure to ensure that licensed insurance agents and other professionals paid court-ordered child support. The insurance agent retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to defend the charges. The insurance agent's civil court child custody and child support file revealed that the insurance agent had remained current in support obligations until filing a motion indicating that the friend of the court had erred in calculating the support obligation and accounting for payments. Once the agent had filed the motion, the agent had escrowed the disputed portion of the child support, as family court rules and procedures permitted. The Defense Team was able to produce documentation confirming that the records on which the insurance board had relied to issue the disciplinary charges had not accounted for the lawful escrow. The Defense Team's communication with the insurance board led to the dismissal of the pending charges.

Professional Engineer Avoids License Suspension Over Choice of Allegedly Unfit Materials

The enforcement division of a Midwest state's division of licensing and regulatory affairs notified a licensed professional engineer of disciplinary charges. The charges alleged that the engineer had specified unsuitable building cladding materials and fasteners. The charges resulted from the design, engineering, and construction of a high-rise residential tower. Shortly after construction, the cladding had loosened from the tower's exterior, threatening pedestrians and vehicles below. Replacing inappropriate material and fasteners costs tens of millions of dollars. Civil litigation among many parties spurred allegations against the engineer facing disciplinary charges. The engineer retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to defend the charges. The Defense Team and client engineer developed and deployed a defense strategy highlighting that none of the many professionals and trades involved in the design, engineering, specification, and installation of the cladding and fasteners had questioned their suitability, which instead was apparent to all those expert individuals. The defense strategy also highlighted questions over the manufacture of the cladding and fasteners, which several parties and experts opined were the cause of the failures. The disciplinary panel recommended the dismissal of the charges after hearing extensive evidence, none of which clarified the disputed issues. The engineer retained the license and employment.

Real Estate Professional Defends Allegations Involving Mishandling of Escrowed Funds

A board of real estate brokers and salespersons in a Southeast state charged a real estate agent with professional misconduct. The charges alleged that the agent had mishandled or misappropriated escrowed funds in violation of professional standards and the parties' escrow agreement. The charges further alleged that the agent had reaped undue financial gain from the violations. Exhibits attached to the charges reflected that they arose out of a transaction involving the disputed sale of a significant waterfront property. That disputed transaction had resulted in substantial civil litigation that resolved to the dissatisfaction of one party. That party subsequently complained to the licensing boards of several different professionals involved in the transaction. The real estate agent retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to defend the charges. The Defense Team and client real estate agent developed a defense strategy of relying on the civil litigation's outcome, which had effectively endorsed the real estate agent's actions. The strategy also showed that the agent had to act in favor of one party or another under the circumstances and made the right call, according to the litigation's outcome. The Defense Team's presentation at an informal resolution conference convinced the charging officials that the dispute involved a civil matter previously resolved in the agent's favor. The Board accordingly dismissed the charges.

Social Worker Defeats Disciplinary Charges of Race and Sex Bias

A state board of social workers in a Southwest Border state charged a licensed social worker in disciplinary proceedings. The charges alleged that the social worker had unlawfully discriminated against clients based on their race and sex, in violation of state and professional standards. The charges arose out of the social worker's substantial efforts to serve an extended immigrant family. When the family did not receive the services and accommodations that they had claimed and expected, they complained to the state board, as an immigration advocate had recommended. When the state board scheduled a hearing on the charges, the social worker retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team. The Defense Team and client social worker pursued a defense strategy of respecting the immigrant family's needs while presenting undisputed facts as to the social worker's permissible services and dedicated actions. The hearing panel initially recommended a reprimand and remedial education. But the Defense Team helped the social worker appeal the recommendation to a committee of the Board. The committee agreed with the appeal and dismissed all charges, leaving the social worker with a clean record. The social worker's employer took no adverse action and continued to employ the social worker in the same position with the same duties.

Licensed Vehicle Dealer Successfully Defends Charges of Fraud in Used Vehicle Sales

A Department of State for a Central Plains state issued disciplinary charges against a licensed vehicle dealer. The charges alleged the dealer's fraudulent sale of defective, used vehicles. The charges identified three sales in which the dealer allegedly misrepresented vehicles as without certain defects when the vehicles' service records allegedly showed the dealer's knowledge of the vehicles' need for repair. The dealer retained the Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team to defend the fraud charges at the scheduled formal hearing. The Defense Team helped the vehicle dealer document the dealer's service repairs of some of the allegedly defective conditions and further document other conditions as non-defective. The Defense Team and client dealer further pursued a defense strategy that used vehicle sales are notoriously uncertain when it comes to vehicle conditions and that the dealer had a good reputation for honest sales based on a competent inspection and service department. The Defense Team used testimony from the dealer, service manager, and service mechanics to support the documentation on the three specific vehicle sales. Only two of the three complaining vehicle purchasers attended the hearing, and neither of the two testified convincingly. The hearing panel dismissed all charges.


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