In common with other agencies that can issue professional licenses, the DRE in California can seek serious punishment for regulatory violations through the courts by filing a legal pleading called an ‘accusation,’ which they then serve on the broker and/or agent. Being served an accusation is very serious, and outcomes can include loss of license.
Where an accusation has been filed against a California realtor, you have the right to have the case heard in an administrative court, in a process that includes discovery of the information supporting the DRE’s case against you and a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge who will weigh the case on its legal merits and the arguments made in court. This means you have a chance at mounting a full defense, or at least at mitigating the damage; but you can easily lose this right if you don’t act quickly to claim it.
California law requires you to respond to an accusation with a Notice of Defense within 15 days of being served; if you don’t do this, the agency has the right to assume that you don’t contest the accusation because you accept that it is true, and to then proceed against you as if it were true. That means they can suspend or revoke your license, or impose other disciplinary measures on you, without giving you any further prior notice. They will notify you when they have made their decision, but by then it may be too late to do anything at all about it. Therefore, that initial 15-day window is a vital opportunity to organize a defense based on points of law, insufficiency of the accusation or statutory and constitutional factors.
Disciplinary cases, even those involving accusations, can sometimes be settled without a hearing; and you can attend a hearing without an attorney. However, considering the seriousness of the potential repercussions, the short time frame and the specialized nature of many available defenses, we would always recommend that if you’re served with an accusation your first call should be an attorney with experience in defending accusations.