June 12, 2012

By Jerome Leslie Eben, AIA
AIANJ Regional Director, ’11-‘13

Recently, Joseph Simonetta, CAE, our Executive Director, credited me with securing in his words, “A HUGE VICTORY”!  Joe was speaking of the complaint that I had filed against a company and its principal some twenty-one (21) months ago, for practicing OUR profession without the benefit of having a license to do so.  The State Board of Architects had found both guilty of just that.

Unfortunately there are many others out there who think that they can practice OUR profession without the education, internship and rigorous examination that we have completed and that enables us to call ourselves ARCHITECTS!  May be the Board’s action will finally stop illegal practice of OUR profession?  However, herein lies the BUT I have put in the title of this article, so please read on my colleagues and please let me know what you think?

Over the years, I have asked many of you to file complaints when you believe that there is a violation of the practice of OUR profession.  Unfortunately, few of you have.  May be you just can’t be bothered, or think it takes to much effort? May be you believe that there might be some retribution?  May be you are just not sure there even is a violation?  Well, all you have to do is find the complaint form on line, spend ten (10) minutes filling it out and send it to the NJ State Board of Architects.  I would strongly recommend that this and any correspondence with the Board be completed via certified mail, return receipt requested.  I do not think that is too stressful, and would urge everyone of you to do this.  Once received, it their obligation to investigate the merits of the complaint.  In short, they take it from there.

Those of you  who take the time to read the AIANJ E-newsletter, know  and  may remember that I mentioned that the State Board of Architects Acting Executive Director apparently took what I believed was an inordinate amount of time in addressing this complaint for reasons still unknown as I write this latest article.  I pressed on.   I even went above his head to the Director of Consumer Affairs at the time, but to no avail.

About six (6) months in, the State Board of Architects finally mounted an investigation that took on some sort of elaborate sting operation. My guess was that they wanted to be absolutely sure that they had the evidence they needed to find at the time the “potential violator” guilty of what I believed was his illegal practice of OUR profession. Well, the sting apparently worked and they had him, but again for some unknown reason not the architect who had helped him in his sham, by signing and sealing his drawings!

A consent decree was offered to the culprit, but he wanted his day in front of the Board.  He was given the opportunity and I was contacted to testify as the complainant by Meaghan Goulding, Esq. (DAG) prosecuting the case.  More months passed and finally I was subpoenaed (as if they had to guarantee my attendance) to testify on April 12, 2012.  I reserved the day blocking out the time on my calendar.   At the eleventh hour, DAG Goulding called me and told me that the unlicensed individual had requested more time to prepare his case.  To say the least, I was not happy about the delay, but I had no right to protest, past voicing my concerns to Ms. Goulding, which you can be sure I did.

In agreement with me, a new date of May 10th was set for my testimony and again I was subpoenaed!  Late on May 9th she called me again to tell me that my testimony would not be required as they were working on a settlement. “A settlement, I asked?”  How often does one (1) get another swing after a strike out?  The answer is, never, apparently and unless you are called in front of the State Board of Architects!

When I asked to know what this settlement was, I was told that I had to wait until it was made public!  Not satisfied with that answer, I called the Board’s DAG Michele Albertson, Esq. I have always had found her to be open to discuss the situation of illegal practice of OUR profession.  Michele called me back at the end of the next day to tell me what had transpired.  By the time you read this article, it will be part of the public record.

The fine for practicing without a license is $10,000.  The investigation for this particular case was $7,000.  The State Board of Architects reduced the fine to $5,000; further forgiving $4,000, so that the fine was $1,000!  To add insult to injury, the violator will be allowed to pay the fine off in several monthly payments.  The DAG stated that he cannot use the word DESIGN in the advertisement of his business and will be on probation for the next four (4) years meaning that any violation during this period would be considered a 2nd violation.  I have no doubt that this will occur, but I have doubts that he will ever be caught.

As to the title of this article “A HUGE VICTORY……………BUT”,  I have been told that my hard work in bringing this complaint forward to the State Board of Architects and in turn despite the long time period it took, finding this individual guilty as explained, is a HUGE VICTORY!

Somehow I do not feel too victorious and either should any of you!  The true victor here is the violator and by all accounts it is a HUGE VICTORY for him!  He gets away with a minimum fine and probation period that is unenforceable. The NJ consumer and tax payer is left unprotected from the illegal practice of architecture and at the same time is out some $16,000.  On top of all of this and in my opinion, worse yet, we still do not have the architect who helped him defraud the clients they worked for, not to mention those of us who practice OUR profession legally!


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