Judicial Branch Certification Commission
Hands Down $25,500 Fine

On August 7, 2015, JBCC Certified Guardian ad Litem, Sarah Watts of
Kyle, Tx., was fined $25,500.00 by the JBCC for 51 separate violations
of the Guardians' Code of Professional Conduct.  The JBCC's
Guardianship Certification Advisory Board recommended the fines and
the revocation of Ms. Watts' certification.  The JBCC accepted the
Advisory Board's recommendations.  Ms. Watts was not present and
will be notified of the JBCC's decision by mail at which time she may
appeal.  For now, she is not certified and essentially out of business.  
Her certification expired on July 7, 2015, and even though she
submitted a renewal application, the JBCC ruled they will not approve

Ms. Watts was accused of things like not showing up to check on
wards in her care and using money intended for the wards for herself.  
Allegedly, Ms. Watts was spending the wards' money, but, claiming she
was paying their bills.  Some of the accusations would possibly be
considered crimes, but, there was no mention of any charges, arrest,
police or state investigation, previous complaints, lawsuits, or claims
against her bond/insurance.

Most concerning is the total amount of the fines.  Even if some or all of
the allegations are true, the JBCC apparently has no limit on the
amount of fines they can assess.,  The final tally could have been
astronomically higher had the JBCC multiplied each infraction by the
number of days the infractions continued.

The key to the JBCC's power to assess fines is contained in the code of
conduct/ethics for each of the four occupations regulated by the
JBCC.  For this purpose, these codes of conduct/ethics are a guideline
for assessing fines.  But, there's just one problem... there is no code of
conduct for process servers.  The JBCC has failed to adopt one.

Equally concerning...  Who gets the 25K?  The wards?  The people who
have allegedly been harmed?  No.  The State of Texas gets this 25K
windfall deposited right into the general revenue fund.  Ironically, Ms.
Watts was trained, her criminal background checked, and certified by
the State; and now the State will receive a profit.  The collection of
these fines will do nothing to improve guardianship services in Texas.

Process servers should consider the possibilities.  Say you serve a
citation on a defendant.  The service goes smoothly, but, you fail to file
a return of service.  Maybe there is a legitimate reason or an
unintentional oversight.  It's late, but, you find the error and file the
return 10 days after it should have been filed.  Should a complaint be
filed on you for this, the JBCC could assess a fine of up to $500 for not
timely filing your return.  They could then multiply that by the 10 days...
$5000.  If you are thinking you can just surrender your certification and
not pay... wrong.  Unless overturned on appeal, or by a court of law, you
have to pay.  If you don't, the Tx. Attorney General will sue you.  Then
you have to pay the AG's attorney's fees, too.  Further, the filing of a
complaint is not even necessary.  The JBCC can open up an
investigation on any licensee at any time for a multitude of reasons.  
It's all there in the JBCC rules.

Ms. Watts, despite how bad of a guardian she might be, is now on the
hook for what is to many people a year's salary!  This is not about
guardians or Ms. Watts.  It is about anyone who is certified by the JBCC
in any of the four regulated occupations and why they should be
concerned about this JBCC ruling.

Tod Pendergrass
CPSAT Director