Being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is a profession that relies heavily on public trust--and for that reason, CPAs are held to high standards of ethical and professional conduct. Even the suggestion of misconduct or unprofessionalism could trigger an investigation by the State Board of Accountancy and possible disciplinary action. That's why, if you're a CPA in Pennsylvania, being served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) can do damage to your professional career as well as your personal life. Not only could you be banned from contact with your significant other (and possibly your children), forced to leave your home, and forced to change your routine...you could possibly even lose your CPA license.
Everything is not hopeless, however. By thinking proactively and responding quickly to a PFA, you can reduce the risk of negative repercussions to your career. Joseph D. Lento is a highly experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who can help you fight the negative effects of a PFA.
How PFAs Work in Pennsylvania
A Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a civil order issued by a judge to protect an alleged victim from a perpetrator of domestic violence. It prevents the respondent (defendant) from having contact (or any other form of communication) with the petitioner (plaintiff). The PFA can be issued regardless of whether any criminal charges are filed. The judge must simply be convinced that your actions pose a threat to the petitioner.
A temporary PFA is usually the first order issued by the judge. This order can be issued without your knowledge or input at the request of the petitioner. It takes effect immediately and stays in effect until the final hearing can take place (typically within ten working days). At the final hearing, you will have the opportunity to present your side of the story, and you may bring an attorney who can present evidence and witnesses to challenge the validity of the PFA. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will decide if the temporary PFA should be dismissed or if a final PFA should be issued. A final PFA can remain in effect for as long as three years. If you violate the terms of the PFA for any reason, you may be charged with criminal contempt. If convicted, you could be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail.
Why Would the State Board of Accountancy Be Concerned About a PFA?
Although the actions that would precipitate a protective order generally have nothing to do with accounting, the fact remains that a CPA is in a position of public trust. The existence of a PFA has many connotations associated with it, including the possibility that you have committed a violent act or a crime of moral turpitude, the possibility of substance abuse or addiction, and other implications. In other words, the PFA suggests you may have abused the public trust--and that could raise concerns with the board that administers your CPA license.
Thus, a PFA could trigger a board investigation in any of the following ways, among others:
- If you are convicted of breaching the PFA, the board may be alerted because of the resulting criminal record
- Someone who knows about your PFA (e.g., a client, colleague, or even the petitioner) may file a complaint directly with the State Board of Accountancy
- A record of the PFA will be noted in court records, which are publicly accessible. If the licensing board searches these records for any reason, they may become aware of the PFA
If the board conducts an investigation and finds evidence of misconduct or violations due to the PFA, they might hold a formal hearing to decide if you should be disciplined. If they find that you are in violation of their policies, your CPA license could be suspended or revoked.
Will a PFA Show Up on a Criminal Background Check?
No, it won't--unless you are convicted of violating it. A PFA is a civil order and does not constitute a criminal conviction, and therefore, it doesn't show up in criminal background checks. However, if you violate the terms of the PFA, you could be convicted of criminal contempt, which would, in fact, generate a criminal record. Additionally, a PFA will automatically be noted in public court records which are publicly accessible.
If the Board of Accountancy Decides to Discipline Me, Will I Automatically Lose My CPA License?
Not necessarily. Revoking your license is the worst possible outcome, but depending on the circumstances of the case, the board may opt for a lesser penalty (such as a fine, formal reprimand, license restrictions, or mandatory professional counseling/treatment) that would allow you to keep your license. Bear in mind that any disciplinary actions could still be recorded on your professional record, and anyone checking your credentials may see them.
Steps to Minimize Risks to Your License If Served with a PFA
The next steps you take after being served with a Protection from Abuse Order could have a significant impact on whether or not your CPA license eventually comes under scrutiny. An experienced attorney can help you decide which of the following strategies is best for your case.
- Contesting the temporary PFA before it becomes a final PFA. You'll have the opportunity at the final PFA hearing to present your case and contest the validity of the PFA. Your goal is to convince the judge not to finalize the PFA. (A temporary PFA that was not finalized is less likely to draw scrutiny from the board.)
- Appeal the final PFA. You can file a Motion to Reconsider or submit an appeal of the PFA directly with the Superior Court to try and get the PFA vacated.
- Petition to expunge the PFA record. A PFA will not appear on your criminal record, but it will be visible in public court records. If the temporary PFA was dismissed or withdrawn without being finalized, you can petition the court to remove all mention of the PFA from court records.
Protect Your CPA License Now
If you take no action to prevent it, your license could be revoked if your PFA raises red flags with the State Board of Accountancy. By taking steps to have the PFA dismissed or vacated, you reduce your risk that the PFA will trigger an investigation by the board. If the board ultimately does investigate, an attorney who is experienced in professional license defense can represent your interests to the board and negotiate for leniency to help you keep your license.
Joseph D. Lento is a defense attorney in Pennsylvania with expertise both with PFAs and professional license defense issues. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case today.