Responding to an Inquiry and Investigation
If you received an Inquiry from the Board, this generally means the following has occurred: a complaint and evidence have been submitted to the Board which have been reviewed by staff and legal counsel in light of case precedents and informal guidelines established by the Board’s Professional Standards Committee. An initial letter, along with a copy of the complaint will be sent to you requesting a response to the allegations.
In addition, the Board staff may initiate “staff-opened” cases where the staff has received information from various sources including certificate renewals, government agencies, and the news media. Upon receipt of the information, the staff will review the information in light of guidelines and precedents established by the Board’s Professional Standards Committee and determine whether a case should be opened. In this case, you may receive a letter, summarizing the case along with additional materials the Board may have received, and requesting a response.
Initial Letter to Licensee and Consent to Ex Parte
In some cases, the staff and legal counsel may determine that additional information is needed before the matter is ever submitted to the Professional Standards Committee of the Board. Here, a letter is sent to the licensee requesting information and any related documents. With the initial letter, the licensee will be asked to sign a “Consent to Ex Parte.” The Consent allows Board staff and legal counsel to engage in ex parte communications (communications without the licensee present) with the Professional Standards Committee regarding evidentiary documentation related to the case. The signed Consent allows the licensee the right to see all information and documents gathered by the staff prior to the presentation to the Professional Standards Committee.
As a CPA, you are required to fully cooperate with the Board in connection with any inquiry the Board makes. The initial deadline to submit a written response is within 21 days of receipt of all inquiries of the Board. Therefore, it is important that you know the date that the letter was received. The Board may grant an initial extension of time to respond upon a timely request.
In drafting a response to an inquiry, it is important for you to include all information and documentation necessary to fairly and fully respond to the allegations. However, it is equally important for you to include only the pertinent information and documentation. We help our clients make these judgments and determinations from an objective standpoint and with knowledge of and experience with the process in defending Board matters. We regularly assist clients with written responses and are flexible in working with clients in doing so, ranging from preparing and signing responses ourselves on clients’ behalf, to reviewing responses prepared by clients and having them submit the response in his or her own name. We also help shoulder the burden of defending against a complaint. Our general explanation of board procedures has a more detailed discussion of how we may be able to assist you in informal proceedings.
After receiving the initial response, the Board may send your reply back to the Complainant for a response, if it is not a staff-opened case. You should be aware before responding that the Complainant is likely to see your response. The investigative process may require additional information or evidence from you, the Complainant or any related parties. Whether additional information and investigation is necessary and how much needs to be collected varies significantly depending on the type of case. At this point, the Board may close the case without taking further action or submit the case to the Professional Standards Committee as discussed below.
Submission to Professional Standards Committee
If the staff believes that evidence and information received demonstrates a violation, staff and legal counsel will request guidance from the Professional Standards Committee. The Professional Standards Committee-three members of the Board-reviews the complaint and may recommend that additional information be gathered, recommend to the full Board that the case be closed, or recommend that the case continue forward. The Committee does not determine guilt or innocence; it simply reviews the complaint to determine whether the allegations, if supported by competent evidence, would warrant a hearing. Live testimony is not received at the Committee meeting, and you and your counsel are not permitted to attend.
Close the Case or Request Additional Information
If the Committee finds the information does not substantiate a violation, the Committee may recommend that the Board close the case with or without prejudice. The Committee may also request that the staff gather additional information.
If the Committee does not recommend that the case be closed or require additional information, the Committee may offer the licensee a Consent Order in settlement of the case. We help our clients evaluate and determine whether they should accept a proposed Consent Order, including whether to negotiate the terms, or in some cases request reconsideration of the Committee’s decision. The Board has more flexibility regarding disciplinary actions in negotiating and entering into consent orders than it does after formal hearings because of the limited options in its statute. This flexibility is one reason we attempt whenever possible to reach a consent order and avoid a formal hearing for CPA clients.