BARRISTER'S BRIEFING: HGAR Adopts Professional Standards Citation Program: Do the Crime, Pay the Fine
Brian Levine | February 6, 2023
All Professional Standard rules and procedures are developed by the National Association of Realtors and are adopted by each state and local association. Some rules and procedures are required, but others are subject to individual association adoption. One of these optional procedures is the possible adoption of a Citation Program. A Citation Program is simply a tool that provides the option to circumvent the Professional Standards Hearing process and instead imposes a fine. I’ll explain this in more detail shortly.
Last year, a Presidential Advisory Group (PAG) was created by then-HGAR President Anthony Domathoti, to investigate, develop and propose whether HGAR should create a Citation Program. After months of research, discussions, and meetings, the Citation PAG recommended the creation of an HGAR Citation Program and provided a framework for it to the Board of Directors. On Nov. 16, 2023, the HGAR Board of Directors voted to adopt the recommendations of the Citation PAG and the creation of an HGAR Citation Program was approved. It will be implemented sometime in 2023. So, this week I’ll go over what a Citation Program is in general, and what the HGAR Citation Program will entail.
The NAR Model Citation Program provides a template for the creation of other Citation Programs. This model limits what can and cannot be done. In short, a Citation Program is a mechanism through which a party who is accused of violating the Code of Ethics (the respondent) can “plead guilty” to certain specific offenses and pay a fine instead of appearing for a hearing. The program is designed to streamline the complaint process to conserve time and resources, so long as certain conditions are met.
The proposed HGAR Citation Program establishes that when a complaint is made, the Grievance Committee will review the complaint to determine if the matter can go forward (i.e., confirm timing, membership, facts, etc.). This is the same process for all complaints that are filed with HGAR. If the complaint is approved to go forward to a Professional Standards Panel, the Grievance Committee will forward the complaint to the Citation Panel to review the Articles/Standards of Practice to determine if the alleged violations coincide with one or several of the enumerated Articles/Standards of Practice on the HGAR Citation Schedule (“citable offense”). If the allegation(s) are not citable offenses, the case will be forwarded to the Professional Standards Committee for a hearing. If the allegations are a mix of citable offenses and non-citable offenses, the Citation Panel will forward the case to the Professional Standards Committee for a hearing. But, if the allegations are only citable offense(s), then the Citation Panel will issue a fine or impose discipline (Citation) consistent with the established HGAR’s Citation Schedule. However, the Citation Panel may determine that the actions alleged are so egregious that a hearing must be scheduled instead of a fine.
Receiving a Citation and Options
The Citation, along with the complaint and a written summary of the matter, will be sent to the respondent and the respondent’s broker. The respondent then has 20 days to agree to pay the Citation or request a hearing. If the respondent accepts the citation, or if the respondent does not request a hearing within 20 days of transmission of the Citation, this will be deemed to be a final resolution of the complaint. The resolution cannot be appealed.
If the respondent accepts the Citation, or if the respondent does not request a hearing within 20 days of transmission of the Citation, payment must be received by HGAR no later than five business days after the date of acceptance or after the time period to request a hearing has elapsed (i.e., 25 days). Thereafter, if respondent does not pay the Citation within 21 calendar days after the date of acceptance or after the time to request a hearing has expired, then their membership will be automatically suspended until the Citation has been paid.
In the alternative, if the respondent requests a hearing, the matter will be placed back on the standard Professional Standards Hearing track and scheduled for a full hearing.
Fines and Limitations
There is a limit on the number of total financial amounts in Citations a respondent can accumulate over a specified period of time before the respondent can no longer avail themselves of the Citation Program and must appear for a Professional Standards Hearing.
There can be no more than two Citations to a respondent in any consecutive 12-month period, starting on the date the first complaint was filed with HGAR.
There can be no more than three citations issued to a respondent within a consecutive 36-month period, starting on the date the first complaint was filed at HGAR.
No additional Citations are permitted where the cumulative fine for the Citations issued would be more than $5,000 in any three-year period.
In addition, the Citation Program will establish an escalating fine schedule for repeat Citations of the same conduct alleged.
Like all Professional Standards Hearings, matters that are subject to the Citation Program will remain confidential and neither the complainant, respondent, the Citation Panel, or Grievance Committee will be permitted to discuss the matter.
While the Citation Program is not earth-shattering, it does create a streamlined way for those who violate a certain Article/Standard of Practice to bypass a hearing and defend themselves in a “no-win” matter and simply pay a fine. This relieves the panels and parties from preparing for and appearing at a hearing and wasting time that could otherwise be spent working at their profession. The process properly screens out repeat offenders and provides assurances that truly offensive actions receive a full hearing. Overall, we contemplate that this new Citation Program will benefit HGAR, committee participants, complainants and staff.