Disciplinary Actions by State Professional Licensing Boards: Are They Fair?


This study examines 14,900 disciplinary actions by the professional licensing boards for attorneys, CPAs, and physicians in four states from 2008 through 2014. It was found that both attorneys and physicians are disciplined at a rate at least seven times that of CPAs. While the majority of disciplinary actions are for misconduct directly related to the professional practice, nearly 14% of sanctions were the result of “social crimes” such as failure to pay child support or student loans, driving under the influence, and general unprofessional conduct. The severity of licensure sanctions varied with the cause for discipline, but was inconsistent both within and between jurisdictions. These results raise important questions about the purpose and performance of state licensing boards and possible reasons for inequitable treatment. Additionally, the widespread and severe sanctions for conduct not related to the professional practice suggest that moral turpitude clauses may violate both equal protection and prohibitions on excessive fines.

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  1. 1.

    A few states, such as Virginia and Michigan, and local municipalities, including New York City, require clergy to be licensed in order to perform legal marriage ceremonies. However, this is more of a “registry” than a professional license, without codes of ethics or other elements of the licenses for other historically traditional professions of accounting, law, or medicine. Ordination of clergy is done by the religious body without licensure in any state.

  2. 2.

    For instance, see State v. Randolph 23 Ore. 74, 31 P. 302 (1892); State Medical Bd. v. McCary 95 Ark. 511, 515, 130 S.W. 544, 545 (1910); Buhr v. State Bd. Of Chiropractic Examiners, 261 Ark. 319, 321, 547 S.W. 2d 762, 763 (1977); Wangerin v. Wisconsin State Bd. of Accountancy, Wis. 270 N.W. 57 (1936).

  3. 3.

    Morrison v. State Board of Education, 1 Cal. 3d 214, 232–33, 461 P.2d 375, 82 Cal. Rptr 175 (1969).

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    McLaughlin v. Board of Medical Examiners, 35 Cal. APP. 3D 1010, 111 CAL. RPTR. 353 (2NS DIST. 1973).

  5. 5.

    Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108–109 (1972).

  6. 6.

    110 P. 3d 224, 225 (Wash. App. Div. 2, 2005).

  7. 7.

    California Board of Accountancy Regulations, particularly Articles 3, 4, and 9; Illinois Public Accounting Act §8.05 and §20.01; New York State Rules of the Board of Regents §29.10; Texas Administrative Code Rule §501.90.

  8. 8.

    Confidence intervals are used as tests of significance throughout this paper, primarily because the data do not result in mean values but in comparative proportions or percentages. In this example, there is a single rate of 0.33 actions per 1000 CPAs, 2.23 for attorneys, and 3.05 for physicians. Those three data points are compared by determining the standard error for each proportion (SEp = sqrt [p(1 − p)/n]) and using that to calculate the 99% (or 95%) confidence interval for each point. Those CIs are then compared for overlap (null hypothesis supported) or lack of overlap (null hypothesis not supported).

  9. 9.

    3:11cv990 (D. Conn 2013).


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Correspondence to Cynthia L. Krom.

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The author, Cynthia Krom, declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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Krom, C.L. Disciplinary Actions by State Professional Licensing Boards: Are They Fair?. J Bus Ethics 158, 567–583 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3738-5

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  • Professional licensure
  • Attorney CPA physician discipline
  • Moral turpitude