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Procedure For Complaints

Code of Ethics Procedures
April 2005

This Code of Ethics Procedures replaces the previous document dated July 2003.

Definitions:

Association Ethics Appeal Board is a board composed of three members appointed by the Executive Director and the Board of Directors. They will be former Regional Ethics Committee Chairs, former Association Ethics Committee Chairs, or former members of the Judicial Ethics Panel. The Executive Director and the Association legal counsel may participate on this board but are non-voting members. The Ethics Appeal Board may meet in person or convene via conference call.

Judicial Ethics Panel is a board composed of five members appointed by the Executive Director and the Board of Directors. The Executive Director and the Association legal counsel may participate on this board but are non-voting members. The Judicial Ethics Panel will meet annually, and may convene as necessary via conference call between meetings.

Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson is the chair of the Judicial Ethics Panel and is one of the five members of that panel. The chair is designated by the Board of Directors.

Association legal counsel is the legal counsel secured by the Executive Director of the Association with the approval of the Board of Directors to protect the interests of the Association.

Emergency Board of Review is established in situations where the protection of the public welfare, the rights of the AAPC member and/or the interests of the Association are overriding concerns and immediate action is needed to address a complaint. The board consists of the President of the Association, the Executive Director, the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson, and one other member of the Judicial Ethics Panel. Legal counsel is a consulting member of this board as needed.

Ethics Complaint is an action taken by a member or nonmember to lodge a complaint against an AAPC member for unethical conduct. It is made by submitting the Ethics Complaint Form which gives the Judicial Ethics Panel permission and consent a) to disclose all information received to the AAPC member and b) to investigate the complaint.

Ethics Record is the record of the ethics investigation, findings and actions, including a copy of the Ethics Complaint Form, all correspondence, a chronological log/summary and other exhibits. Once the appeal process is completed this record is sent to the Association office for storage and safekeeping.

Complainant is anyone who makes an ethics complaint to a Regional Ethics Committee or the Judicial Ethics Panel.

Initial Response Team evaluates the merits of a complaint and makes the determination to initiate an ethics investigation. This team is composed of the Executive Director, the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson, one other member of the Judicial Ethics Panel, and legal counsel.

Member is anyone who holds membership status in AAPC at any level.

Regional Ethics Committee is a committee elected by each region to act as the representative body to advise members and the public regarding ethical queries and to provide educational opportunities about ethics on a regional or association level.

Regional Ethics Committee Chairperson is the elected chair of the Regional Ethics Committee.

Sexual Misconduct is any behavior defined in Principle III- -Client Relationships, G. and H. and Principle V- -Supervisee, Student & Employee Relationships, B. and C.

Unethical Conduct is behavior that violates the ethical standards of pastoral counseling practice described in the AAPC Code of Ethics.

Commitments:

The Judicial Ethics Panel is the AAPC representative body that receives and responds to all inquires regarding the Code of Ethics. The Judicial Ethics Panel is to advise members and the public regarding the AAPC Code of Ethics. The Judicial Ethics Panel reviews, determines, investigates and adjudicates the merits of complaints.

As members of AAPC, we agree to respond immediately, according to the requirements of the Code of Ethics and Procedures, whenever it appears that any member, including ourselves, has violated the Code of Ethics and to accept the final disposition made on behalf of the Association.

All of these commitments are subject to the guidelines and procedures that follow:

Guidelines and Procedures:

  1. General Guidelines and Procedures for Members of AAPC
    1. Member Obligations
      1. Whenever an AAPC member has a question regarding the Code of Ethics, the member should consult the Judicial Ethics Panel for information, clarification and direction.
      2. When a client, supervisee or coworker complains to a member of AAPC of unethical conduct, the member should consult the Judicial Ethics Panel for direction as to how to respond.
      3. When a member receives information of a complaint of unethical conduct against them through other sources, the member shall promptly report the information to the Judicial Ethics Panel. This includes information received through the public media, through legal action, civil or criminal, through a state licensing board, through a professional organization or through an endorsing faith group. Failure to report may be grounds for disciplinary action.
    2. Member to Member Obligations
      1. A member who knowingly violates the Code of Ethics is required to submit an Ethics Complaint Form to the Judicial Ethics Panel.
      2. If a member becomes aware of a violation of the Code of Ethics which is not threatening to the well being of the member or others, they are encouraged first to approach the AAPC member whose behavior is in question with the purpose to resolve the matter through clarification or remonstrance.
      3. If this intervention fails, or if an alleged violation appears to be a serious threat to the well being of the member or others, members shall refer the matter to the Judicial Ethics Panel by informing the Chairperson of the Judicial Ethics Panel of the alleged violation. If the situation merits it, the Chairperson of the Judicial Ethics Panel will request that the member complete and submit an Ethics Complaint Form. Upon receipt of complaint, the Chairperson of the Judicial Ethics Panel shall forward the complaint to the Association Office for evaluation by the Initial Response Team.
  2. General Guidelines and Procedures for Complainants who are not Members of AAPC
    1. Anyone, including clients, employers, and co-workers, may direct an ethics inquiry and/or question about the ethical conduct of a member of AAPC to the Chairperson of the Judicial Ethics Panel.
    2. The Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson will explain to the complainant the limitations placed on the Judicial Ethics Panel, namely that its authority extends only to the member and the member's relationship to AAPC and that the actions the committee can take are limited to those identified in the Code of Ethics Procedures.
    3. The Association Office shall provide the complainant with a copy of the Code of Ethics, the Code of Ethics Procedures and the Ethics Complaint Form.
    4. If a person chooses to make an ethics complaint, he/she shall complete the Ethics Complaint Form, giving written consent for the Judicial Ethics Panel to disclose to the member any information given and to investigate the complaint.
    5. The complainant will be informed whether an investigation will be undertaken. A name of a contact person will be given to the complainant.
    6. The complainant will be informed of the fact that the investigation has been completed, a findings made and an action taken. Details will not be disclosed.
    7. The complainant will be reminded that the right of appeal of the Judicial Ethics Panel's actions is the member's right only and may be made by the member within thirty days of receipt of findings and actions. The complainant does not have the right to appeal.
    8. The complainant will be informed of the final disposition after the appeal process is completed.
  3. Determination to Initiate an Ethics Investigation.
    1. An ethics complaint is received when a complainant completes and submits the Ethics Complaint Form.
    2. When the Association office receives the Ethics Complaint Form either directly or from the Judicial Ethics Panel, the Initial Response Team will evaluate it. The Initial Response Team will determine whether an ethics investigation is merited. The Initial Response Team may make the following determinations:
      1. Not a Violation of the Code: If the Initial Response Team determines that the allegation does not involve a violation of AAPC's Code of Ethics, the process will be terminated and no further ethics investigation will be undertaken.
      2. Interpersonal or Clinical Issue, Not a Violation of the Code : If the Initial Response Team determines that the allegation involves a colleague dispute or a conflict regarding clinical judgment, they may recommend consultation or mediation to resolve the situation but no further ethics investigation will be undertaken.
      3. Complaint May Have Merit, but Cannot Be Considered Due to Time Limit for Filing Complaint : If the Initial Response Team determines that a complaint has been filed after the time limits described below (3h), they shall end the ethics process or refer decision to the Judicial Ethics Panel to rule on an exception to the time limit (3i). No further ethics investigation will be undertaken until authorized by the Judicial Ethics Panel.
      4. Complaint May Have Merit, but Has Been Put On Hold for Superseding Jurisdiction : The Initial Response Team may determine that the complaint appears to have merit but may put the ethics investigation on hold. To place an ethics investigation on hold, the following conditions need to exist: (a) complaint is being heard in a jurisdiction that supersedes that of AAPC, e.g., criminal or civil court, a state licensing board, another certifying organization, or an endorsing faith group's disciplinary process and (b) the situation does not threaten the well being of the member or others. The hold will be taken off and the ethics investigation process initiated when the superseding process is completed. Information from that process will be included in the ethics investigation. Normally, any member who has been suspended for an ethics violation by a religious endorsing body, during or as a result of that body's ethics investigation, shall be deemed automatically suspended by AAPC pending resolution of the ethics complaint and the reinstatement of ecclesiastical credentials.
      5. Complaint May Have Merit, Investigation Begun :The Initial Response Team may determine that the allegation appears to have merit and is solely within the jurisdiction of AAPC or does threaten the well being of the member or others. An investigation will be initiated at this point.
    3. The ethics investigation will be conducted by the Judicial Ethics Panel as soon as possible and in a deliberate and careful manner, under the direction of Association legal counsel.
    4. The Judicial Ethics Panel may initiate a review by the Initial Response Team without a complaint being filed based upon information obtained from other sources, including but not limited to:
      1. Notification of disciplinary action by another professional organization, a certifying group or by the member's endorsing faith group.
      2. A report in the public media.
      3. A legal source (civil or criminal) that indicates an allegation of unethical conduct.
      4. Information from a member, or the public, that a member of AAPC is impaired and unable to practice pastoral counseling competently. In these cases, the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson shall send any information received to the Association office for review by the Initial Response Team. No further investigation of information received will be undertaken until reviewed by the Initial Response Team. The Initial Response Team will determine whether further investigation is merited.
    5. Only those who were members at the time that the alleged violation of the Code of Ethics took place may be investigated and disciplined.
    6. If a member should resign during the course of an investigation of an alleged violation, the ethics investigation process shall stop. However, the Association records will indicate that the resignation occurred during the course of an ethics investigation. See notification steps below.
    7. Stipulated Resignation: When a member resigns stipulating that the complaint is valid and acknowledging the violation, this resignation is accepted and the ethics investigation process shall stop. See notification steps below.
    8. Time Limits For Filing a Complaint: Ethics complaints need to be made in a timely manner to allow effective investigation, evaluation of information gathered and determination of actions to be taken. The statute of limitation for filing an ethics complaint is seven years from the date of the alleged violation. In cases involving a minor, the statute of limitation is seven years after the minor's eighteenth birthday.
    9. Exceptions to Time Limits: Any complaint not received within the time limits set forth above shall not be considered unless three fifths of the Judicial Ethics Panel votes to do so and all of the following criteria are met:
      1. The alleged offense is serious enough that the Panel would likely recommend Dismissal from membership if substantiated; 
      2. There is significant supporting evidence for the allegations; and
      3. There is good cause demonstrated for the complaint not having been filed within the applicable time limit 
  4. Notifications that an Ethics Complaint Has Been Received.
    1. When an Ethics Complaint has been received, the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson shall notify all members of the Initial Response Team with copies of the complaint.
    2. The Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson shall notify the member against whom the complaint has been filed by sending either a copy of the complaint or a summary outlining the nature of the ethical code violations alleged. This notification shall be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.
    3. The Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson shall notify the complainant that the ethics complaint has been received.
    4. The Initial Response Team shall notify the complainant of the initial determination and of the person designated to lead the investigation. Possible determinations are outlined in 3.b. above.
  5. The Ethics Investigation Process
    1. When directed by the Initial Response Team, the Judicial Ethics Panel shall begin an investigation, conducted by or on behalf of Association legal counsel for the Association, following the guidelines outlined in these Procedures.
    2. When using an investigation team, any conflict of interest among those who are eligible to investigate the complaint will be considered. Any member of the team for whom there appears to be a conflict of interest will be excused. If there should be a conflict of interest for the Chairperson, another member of the Judicial Ethics Panel will be appointed to direct the investigation by the Initial Response Team.
    3. Investigation may include separate individual interviews with complainant(s), with the member against whom the complaint has been made and with others deemed necessary to obtain needed information. Other information such as clinical case records may be requested with appropriate consents. The member may be asked to respond in writing to specific allegations of unethical conduct.
    4. The Judicial Ethics Panel may add possible Code violations to those identified by the complainant and may investigate and recommend action related to those additional Principles.
    5. Documentation: The Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson shall keep notes that include dates and brief summaries of all phone calls and meetings. These notes should be clear enough to demonstrate that the investigation was adequate and its findings sufficient to sustain its determination(s). These notes are kept in a secure place and treated as confidential. Initials, instead of names, shall be used wherever feasible.
  6. Comments About the Ethics Investigation Process:
    1. The Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson may seek consultation with Association legal counsel to ensure that the ethics procedures are followed accurately. The member against whom a complaint has been made may seek legal counsel, at his/her own expense.
    2. The member is expected to cooperate with the investigation process. Refusal or failure to cooperate with an ethics investigation at any point may be considered grounds for Dismissal.
    3. When asked about allegations against a particular member, the following information, and no other information, may be revealed by a member of the Judicial Ethics Panel:
      1. that a complaint has been received and an investigation of the alleged violation(s) is in process. This includes cases where actions are under review by the Judicial Ethics Panel, in cases in which the Judicial Ethics Panel recommend for Dismissal and cases where the member is appealing findings and action. or
      2. that a complaint has been received, an investigation completed and the member has been disciplined for violation(s) of the Code of Ethics. Level of discipline, Advisement, Reprimand and Dismissal and specific Code violation may be specified. No other information may be released.
    4. The member is expected to comply with final actions, decisions and recommendations made by the Judicial Ethics Panel. If reduction in membership or Dismissal from membership is one of the actions taken, the member shall return the Membership Certificate to the Association office within 30 days.
    5. Review of Investigation Findings and Determination of Action
      1. Except in cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct or other legally sensitive complaints, the Judicial Ethics Panel shall review the findings of the investigation and make a determination as to the action(s) to be taken.
      2. In cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct or other legally sensitive matters, the Judicial Ethics Panel shall review the findings of the investigation and make a determination of the action(s) to be taken. The Association legal counsel will participate in the case review. Only the appointed members of the Judicial Ethics Panel may vote on the actions to be taken.
    6. Four Actions May Be Taken:
      1. Complaint unfounded. The Judicial Ethics Panel finds that the information presented does not support a finding that the Code of Ethics has been violated.
      2. Advisement. The Judicial Ethics Panel finds that there has been inadequate attention given to a section of the Code of Ethics and that education, regarding appropriate ethical conduct, is sufficient to correct this inattention and insure future compliance with the Code of Ethics.
      3. Reprimand. The Judicial Ethics Panel finds that there has been a violation of the Code of Ethics. This action represents a serious reproof or rebuke of the member, and is based upon an assessment that the member has accepted full responsibility for the violation and that the Reprimand is adequate to ensure future compliance with the Code of Ethics. It may include a reduction of membership level and additional stipulations.
      4. Dismissal. The Judicial Ethics Panel finds that there has been a violation of the Code of Ethics. This recommendation represents the judgment that the member demonstrates an essential lack of professional knowledge, procedures, character or conduct, which are inconsistent with membership in AAPC. This recommendation also represents the judgment that the violation constitutes a threat to the well being of the member, the Association and/or the public.
    7. Review of Recommendations for Action: The Judicial Ethics Panel will review all recommendations for action and take final action. As part of this review, the Association legal counsel will participate in the case review.
    8. Notification of Findings and Action Taken:
      1. The Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson, in cases involving the recommendation of Dismissal, shall notify the member of the findings and actions taken. This notification shall be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, and shall include notification that the member may appeal the decision.
      2. No public notification or notification to complainant(s) shall be made until after the appeal process is completed. The complainant will be notified of the action taken, not of the Principles violated.
  7. The Appeal Process:
    1. All appeals of actions taken by the Judicial Ethics Panel will be heard by the Association Ethics Appeal Board. In all cases of appeal, the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson will consider whether there is any conflict of interest among those eligible to adjudicate the appeal, and will excuse any member of the Association Ethics Appeal Board for whom there appears to be a conflict of interest.
    2. Legal counsel for AAPC may participate in any appeal process at the discretion of the Chairperson of the Association Ethics Appeal Board. In cases involving the recommendation of Dismissal, legal counsel will participate in the appeal process as a nonvoting participant.
    3. The member may appeal an action of Advisement or Reprimand or Dismissal by writing to the Judicial Ethics Panel, which will forward the appeal to the Association Ethics Appeal Board. Grounds for appeals may include new information, questions regarding accuracy or interpretation of information gathered, procedural concerns or questions regarding level of action taken. If no appeal has been received from the member within 30 days of the receipt of the notification of the investigation's findings and the action(s), the case will be processed and closed, with notifications sent as noted below.
    4. When an action is appealed, the Chair of the Judicial Ethics Panel shall prepare a summary of the case and forward a copy of the investigation's findings to the Association Ethics Appeal Board Chairperson. The Association Ethics Appeal Board Chairperson will distribute these materials to the Association Ethics Appeal Board. The Chair of the Judicial Ethics Panel shall present the summary and findings for review to the Association Ethics Appeal Board. The presenter shall abstain from voting. The previous decision adjudicated by the Judicial Ethics Panel will remain in effect through the duration of the appeal process.
    5. The member may choose to present additional information in writing. For materials to be considered, they must be delivered to the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson not less than 45 days after request for appeal. The Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson will distribute these materials to the Association Ethics Appeal Board.
    6. The Association Ethics Appeal Board will review complaint, investigation, findings and actions taken as well as any additional information presented by the member and make a decision regarding the appeal. Actions are limited to:
      1. Dismiss the original complaint and findings and set aside action taken.
      2. Reopen the investigation and request additional information;
      3. Uphold the original findings but modify the action, e.g., reduce or increase level of discipline or modify requirements of member; or
      4. Uphold the original findings and action.
    7. Decisions by the Association Ethics Appeal Board regarding appeals are final.
  8. Maintenance of Records of Closed Ethics Investigations
    1. The Ethics Record shall be sealed in an envelope with only the member's name, action taken and date of final action on the outside. This record is sent to the Association Office for storage and safekeeping. This record is to be kept indefinitely until the Association learns of the member's death. The record will then be destroyed.
    2. Case records with the findings of Unfounded, Advisement and Reprimand are to be kept for 10 years, or longer if another investigation is begun.
    3. Case records with the findings of Dismissal are to be kept indefinitely.
    4. The file shall be destroyed after the Association learns of the member's death.
    5. If a subsequent complaint against a member who has been previously investigated is received, the Initial Response Team will review the summary of the prior case for its relevancy. If prior case is relevant, the summary will be given to the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson.
    6. All other copies of records used during the ethics process by investigators, Judicial Ethics Panel members, and Association Ethics Appeal Board members shall be destroyed.
  9. Notification of Final Action After the Appeal Process Is Completed:
    1. When the final action is Unfounded or Advisement, only the member and the complainant(s) shall be notified of the findings and action taken.
    2. When the final action is Reprimand or Dismissal
      1. the member and the complainant(s) shall be notified of the findings and action taken; and
      2. the action shall be published in the next AAPC Newsletter.
    3. When a member has resigned during the course of an ethics investigation,
      1. the complainant(s) will be notified of resignation and the fact that AAPC no longer has any jurisdiction over member.
    4. The notice in the AAPC Newsletter is limited to the member's full name and highest earned degree, geographic location, the fact and date of Reprimand, Dismissal, Resignation or Stipulated Resignation and the specific Principle(s) of the Code of Ethics which have been violated.
  10. Emergency Board of Review:
    1. An Emergency Board of Review may be established to protect the public welfare, the rights of AAPC members, and/or the interests of the Association.
    2. This board will consist of the President, the Executive Director, Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson, and one other member of the Judicial Ethics Panel. Association legal counsel may participate, at the discretion of the Executive Director.
    3. Upon notification that a member's conduct and actions appear to be so egregious that waiting for action and decision through the normal committee process presents an unacceptable level of risk to the public, the member, or the Association, the Emergency Board of Review will have the authority to meet, to consider the facts, to temporarily withdraw membership credentials for up to 90 days and to make ultimate disposition of the case within the same period.
    4. The member shall be notified in writing by the Judicial Ethics Panel Chairperson, who will serve as Chairperson of the Emergency Board of Review, of the withdrawal of credentials for up to 90 days.
    5. The Emergency Board of Review shall direct the investigation, following the process described above, and make ultimate disposition of the case within 90 days. The Emergency Board of Review may use the Association legal counsel or members of the Judicial Ethics Panel to assist in this investigation.
    6. Findings and actions of the Emergency Board of Review may be appealed to the Association Ethics Appeal Board, following procedures outlined above. If actions are appealed, credentials will continue to be withdrawn until appeal is completed.
    7. Notifications and publication will be follow procedures outline above.
  11. Monitoring of the Ethics Process
    1. The Chairperson of the Judicial Ethics Panel or the Association legal counsel shall report to the Judicial Ethics Panel the status of each complaint at every meeting, noting any new complaints received. 
    2. A log will be maintained by the Chairperson of the Judicial Ethics Panel to facilitate tracking cases.

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