Codes Of Conduct For Professionals: Far-Reaching Implications

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Job interview.  Group of businesspeople having a meeting.Lawyers, accountants and other professionals, beware – we now have a very interesting Alberta Court of Appeal decision from the Discipline Tribunal Appeal Board of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (the “Institute”) that many of us will find quite useful when it comes to the conduct of unit owners and even board members with professional designations. This decision shows that unit owners who in their professional life are governed by a code of conduct, should think long and hard before making threats to board members and property management – otherwise, they may find themselves before their disciplinary body and out of pocket in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Maria Cornella Erdmann, a Chartered Accountant and unit owner, had been involved in disputes concerning her unit with the builder, the board and property management since 2008. During the course of those disputes, Ms. Erdmann sent the following two emails, both emails identifying herself as a Chartered Accountant:

1.  To a sales person of the builder stating, “I will also file a complaint with the City of Edmonton who issues business licenses and may file complaints with other agencies (i.e WCB for unsafe worksite, the utilities commission for having utility boxes exposed and unlocked….and maybe Canada Revenue Agency… for failure to submit subcontractor information slips and possible tax evasion with family members).”

2.   To property management stating, “I will be forwarding your letter to Canada Revenue Agency special investigations and other agencies…..as they are quite interested in your property management company and the condo board. Enjoy!”

A complaint was filed against Ms. Erdmann to the Institute’s Complaints Inquiry Committee and the matter was brought before the Discipline Tribunal on the basis that Ms. Erdmann was in breach of the Institute’s rules of professional conduct. The rules provide that “A registrant shall at all times act in a manner which will maintain the good reputation of the profession and its ability to serve the public interest.”

Although Ms. Erdmann argued that the Discipline Tribunal lacked jurisdiction because the conduct was an issue involving her private and personal life and not her professional life, the Discipline Tribunal disagreed and reprimanded her for unprofessional conduct, ordered her to undergo counseling, fined her $10,000 and ordered her to pay the full costs of the investigation and hearing on an indemnity basis.

Ms. Erdmann appealed the Tribunal’s decision. On appeal the Tribunal upheld the Discipline Tribunals finding of unprofessional conduct but quashed the counseling order and reduced the costs order by 25%. ($99,610 to $74,708). The Appeal Tribunal also ordered Ms. Erdmann to pay 75% of the costs of the appeal to a maximum of $56,250 (over $100,000 in costs alone!).

Ms. Erdmann then appealed the Appeal Tribunal’s decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal. The court found that there was no nexus between her insistence that repairs to her condo be completed and her threats to file complaints to other agencies. “A chartered accountant’s status in the community at large means that his/her conduct will from time to time be the subject of scrutiny and comment. While acknowledging the legitimate demands of one’s personal life and the rights and privileges that we all enjoy, private behavior that derogates from the high standard of conduct essential to the reputation of one’s profession cannot be condoned. It follows that a chartered accountant must ensure that her conduct is above reproach in the view of reasonable, fair-minded and informed persons.”

The court dismissed Ms. Erdmann’s appeal.

 

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