If the Grievance Committee moves an ethics complaint or arbitration request forward to the Professional Standards Committee, a hearing will be scheduled. As either the Complainant or Respondent in an ethics or arbitration matter, you will want to review this overview of what to expect, before, during and after the hearing.
Preparing for the Hearing
- Familiarize yourself with the hearing procedures that will be followed. In particular, you will want to know about challenging potential panel members, your right to counsel, calling witnesses and the burdens and standards of proof that apply.
- Complainants have the ultimate responsibility (“burden”) of proving that the Code of Ethics has been violated. The standard of proof that must be met is “clear, strong and convincing,” which is defined as “...that measure or degree of proof which will produce a firm belief or conviction as to the allegations sought to be established.” Consistent with American jurisprudence, respondents are considered innocent unless proven to have violated the Code of Ethics.
- Be sure that your witnesses and counsel will be available on the day of the hearing. Continuances are a privilege, not a right.
- Be sure you have all the documents and other evidence you need to present your case.
- Organize your presentation in advance. Know what you are going to say and be prepared to demonstrate what happened and how you believe the Code of Ethics was violated.
At the Hearing
- Appreciate that panel members are unpaid volunteers giving their time as an act of public service. Their objective is to:
- Be fair, unbiased and impartial;
- Determine, based on the evidence and testimony presented to them, what actually occurred;
- Determine whether the facts as they find them support a finding that the Article(s) charged have been violated.
- Hearing panels cannot conclude that an Article of the Code has been violated unless that Article(s) is specifically cited in the complaint.
- Keep your presentation concise, factual and to the point. Your task is to demonstrate what happened (or what should have happened but didn't), and how the facts support a violation of the Article(s) charged in the complaint.
- Hearing panels base their decisions on the evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. If you have information relevant to the issue(s) under consideration, be sure to bring it up during your presentation.
- Recognize that different people can witness the same event and have differing recollections about what they saw. The fact that a respondent or their witness recalls things differently doesn't mean they aren't telling the truth as they recall events. It is up to the hearing panel, in the findings of fact that will be part of their decision, to determine what actually happened.
- The hearing panel will pay careful attention to what you say and how you say it. An implausible account doesn't become more believable through repetition or volume.
- You are involved in an adversarial process that is, to some degree, unavoidably confrontational. Many violations of the Code of Ethics result from misunderstanding or lack of awareness of ethical duties by otherwise well-meaning, responsible real estate professionals. An ethics complaint has the potential to be viewed as an attack on a respondent's integrity and professionalism. For the enforcement process to function properly, it is imperative for all parties, witnesses and panel members to maintain appropriate decorum.
After the Hearing
- When you receive the hearing panel's decision, review it carefully.
- Findings of fact are the conclusions of impartial panel members based on their reasoned assessment of all of the evidence and testimony presented during the hearing. Findings of fact are not appealable.
- If you believe the hearing process was seriously flawed to the extent you were denied a full and fair hearing, there are appellate procedures that can be involved. The fact that a hearing panel found no violation is not appealable.
- Refer to the procedures used by the local board or association of REALTORS® for detailed information on the bases and time limits for appealing decisions or requesting a rehearing.
- Rehearings are generally granted only when newly discovered evidence comes to light (a) which could not reasonably have been discovered and produced at the original hearing and (b) which might have had a bearing on the hearing panel's decision.
- Appeals brought by ethics respondents must be based on (a) a perceived misapplication or misinterpretation of one or more Articles of the Code of Ethics, (b) a procedural deficiency or failure of due process, or (c) the nature or gravity of the discipline proposed by the hearing panel.
- Appeals brought by ethics complainants are limited to procedural deficiencies or failures of due process that may have prevented a full and fair hearing.