If the state in which you live or work requires you to have a license to sell cars, trucks, motorcycles, etc., your entire career effectively hinges on that vehicle salesperson's license. Without it, you can't do your job and make a living. Understandably, if you are accused of violating the terms of your license or some other type of misconduct that puts your license in jeopardy, it can throw your whole world into turmoil. How can you defend against the complaint? What will become of your career if you are required to surrender your salesperson's license?
Here's the good news: in many circumstances, an experienced professional license defense attorney can help you avoid the most severe outcome if your license comes under scrutiny. Attorney Joseph D. Lento works with licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are dealing with allegations of misconduct and facing possible disciplinary action. If you work in vehicle sales, you should be aware of the potential consequences and how to safeguard yourself if your licensing board disciplines you. The following FAQ will discuss some of the most common reasons why salespeople lose their licenses, as well as the disciplinary process and what you can do to protect your license.
What types of violations could cause me to lose my license?
Many automotive salespeople face having their license revoked either for a breach of state rules and regulations or some violation of the public trust. The following are some of the most prevalent allegations that could cost you your license:
- Fraudulent activity. Deceptive trade practices, phony advertising, overbilling customers, altering VIN numbers, tampering with odometers, or any other attempt to defraud the public or mislead the motor vehicle commission in your state--any of these examples of fraudulent activity could result in loss of license.
- Violating state regulations. Salespeople are required to follow a variety of regulations in various states, ranging from the type and manner in which they advertise signage and credentials to where they may and can't sell automobiles. Failure to obey these regulations may result in your license being revoked.
- Selling vehicles from non-licensed locations. In some states, salespeople are only allowed to sell from particular locations that have been authorized by the state (e.g., licensed dealerships). Selling from any other place, even if it's for a one-time occasion, may jeopardize your license.
- Unlawful use of dealer plates. Abusing the right to use salesperson plates (for example, on commercial or for-hire vehicles) may result in your license being revoked.
- Certain criminal convictions. If you've been convicted of a fraud, theft, or automobile-related offense, you might be disqualified from obtaining or holding a license to sell vehicles.
If I'm accused of wrongdoing as a vehicle salesperson, what agency investigates the accusation?
Every state has its own policies for licensing and regulating vehicle salespeople, but typically, the agency that issued your license will also invoke disciplinary action if you're accused of violations or misconduct. If you're a vehicle salesperson in New Jersey, for example, you will actually need to hold a dealer license, and you'll answer to the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. In Pennsylvania, it's the State Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers and Salespeople. (The State of New York currently doesn't require vehicle salespeople to be licensed.)
Will any violation automatically result in my salesperson license being revoked?
Not necessarily. The licensing authority or board in charge of your license will consider the circumstances before determining disciplinary action. Lesser violations or extenuating circumstances may result in lesser disciplinary actions that will allow you to keep selling. The most common penalties include:
- License suspension. Your license may be conditionally suspended with the option of reinstating it after certain conditions are met.
- Fines. Some violations will simply result in fines (although these can be expensive).
- Probation. Your activities may be monitored and/or supervised for a time to ensure you stay in compliance with regulations.
- Restricted activities. The state might place limitations on where you can work, what you can sell, etc.
Could disciplinary actions hurt my career even if I get to keep my license?
Yes. Although you might be able to keep your license and avoid severe penalties, most disciplinary actions are still a matter of public record. That means that other people--including potential customers, employers, and other salespeople can look up your license and see. These disciplinary actions could damage your reputation in the industry and make it harder to work.
What does the disciplinary process look like?
Each state has its own disciplinary process for vehicle sales licensees. The majority of professional licensing discipline processes involve some or all the following steps:
- Complaint. Most disciplinary proceedings against vehicle sellers originate with some type of complaint (typically made by a customer) or by reported violations from state inspectors.
- Investigation. The licensing board will conduct an investigation to determine whether the complaint has merit. An investigator may be appointed to conduct interviews, inspect documents, etc.
- Consent order. If there is compelling evidence against you, the licensing board might offer you a consent order. A consent order is essentially an admission of guilt and a voluntary agreement in which you submit to the board's disciplinary measures.
- Hearing. In certain cases, you may be asked to appear at a formal hearing to show cause why your license should not be revoked. You may be represented by an attorney for this hearing.
- Final determination and disciplinary action. The licensing agency (or state commissioner, as the case may be) will make a final determination as to your guilt at the conclusion of the hearing, as well as decide on any appropriate penalties. This could include revoking your salesperson's license.
At any point in the process, the agency or board could drop the complaint against you, citing lack of evidence or for any other reason. An experienced license defense attorney can increase your chances of getting the complaint dismissed with minimal or no damage to your license.
Should I sign a consent order if one is offered?
It depends. If the evidence is strong against you and you don't want to spend the time or expense on a formal hearing, a consent order might be in your best interest, especially if the terms include a pathway to reinstatement of your license. On the other hand, if you have a strong defense against the complaint, it might be worth pressing the matter, even if it means a formal hearing. A good professional license defense attorney can help you make the right decision for your case.
Why should I hire an attorney to protect my vehicle sales license?
The stakes of disciplinary action against you for a license violation are high. Your career and your business depend on keeping your license intact, but licensing agencies don't go by the innocent-until-proven-guilty standard when investigating possible wrongdoing. To suspend or revoke your license, they only need to be at least 50 percent convinced that the allegations against you are true. This places you at a distinct disadvantage.
A professional license defense attorney can assist you in navigating the disciplinary process and ensure your side is heard and your rights are protected. A skilled attorney can frequently convince the state agency or commissioner to drop the investigation or at least agree to lesser penalties that allow you to keep your license. The attorney can also help you avoid common mistakes that could compromise your chances of success. In short, your chances of keeping your license go up considerably if you hire an attorney versus the alternative.
Will I appear guilty if I hire an attorney?
Not at all. State licensing boards and agencies have a lot of experience dealing with lawyers. Hiring one does not suggest that you are guilty. In fact, employing an attorney actually helps your case because you will have someone to protect your rights, and it shows the board that you take the matter seriously.
I was only guilty of a minor offense and will likely only be fined. Do I still need an attorney?
It is not wise to underestimate the intentions and goals of a licensing board or regulatory agency. Even though a fine may seem like the most likely penalty, the board can still revoke your license for minor infractions. And even if you are correct about the fines, the facts about your disciplinary action will still be publicly available. These consequences can often be avoided by having a competent lawyer on your side. If the offense is truly minor, a good lawyer can often negotiate to have the complaint dismissed to eliminate any potential disciplinary penalties and fines.
I already lost my vehicle salesperson's license. Is it possible to reinstate my license or obtain a new one?
Possibly. You may be eligible for restoration of your license as a salesperson in certain states. However, this is subject to some conditions. It is likely that you will need to prove that you have rectified any violations that led to your license being suspended. A written explanation of why you are requesting reinstatement may be required. Finally, any fines you have been assessed will need to be paid before the agency can issue a new license.
How will a license defense attorney help me keep my license?
If your license as a salesperson is at risk, there are many ways a license defense lawyer can assist you. They can develop a compelling response to the complaint against you and gather evidence to bolster your case. They can help you to develop a defense strategy for your hearing, if you are summoned to one, and they can negotiate with the licensing agency or board to drop the complaint or reduce the penalties. Your chances of a favorable outcome go up considerably with an experienced attorney on your side.
What kind of attorney do I need?
While you have the right to choose any lawyer that you like, not all lawyers are qualified to defend you against losing your license. You will get the best results if you choose an attorney who has specific experience in professional license defense and administrative law. This type of attorney will be able to better understand the board's workings and help you navigate the disciplinary process to the best of your ability.
I have been informed that my license as a salesperson is being investigated for possible violations or allegations of wrongdoing. How soon should I involve an attorney?
When you find out that your license has been under investigation, it is a good idea to get in touch with an attorney right away. They can immediately begin to work on your behalf to get the complaint dismissed and negotiate lower penalties. You may not be able to save your license if you wait for a notice of hearing to hire an attorney because by then, the board or commissioner will have already begun building a case against you. The sooner you involve an attorney, the more opportunity your attorney has to resolve the issue before a hearing is even scheduled.
The loss of your state-issued license can be devastating for your career if you're a licensed motorcyclist, truck, boat, or motorcycle salesperson. Do not risk your career by not seeking out experienced legal counsel. To discuss your case, and to learn more about your rights, call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686.