Article from Nonprofit Quarterly – Conflicts of Interest, Governance, and Dominate Coalitions; and California Statutory Business Judgment and Fiduciary Duties

Below I have provided a link to a Nonprofit Quarterly article that I believe is useful for nonprofit directors, boards and officers to keep in mind. I am providing this link because the discussions and examples are worthwhile; however, I do not necessarily agree with all of the contents and representations or assertions that are made – in that regard, it is important to keep in mind that each nonprofit, director, board, officer and situation is different and must be evaluated as such.

The article, Conflict of Interest: Recusal Is Not Enough (click on the following link https://nonprofitquarterly.org/conflict-of-interest-recusal-is-not-enough/) provides examples of conflict of interest situations in the nonprofit setting, including situations where a decision maker director or officer will receive a direct or indirect benefit from a transaction or occurrence that is being taken or voted upon. Obviously there should be processes in place, and these situations and possible situations must be carefully (1) identified, and (2) evaluated, including from an appearance of conflict perspective – although an appearance of conflict isn’t necessarily unlawful the possible optics of such nevertheless can be damaging to reputation. These situations and possible situations should also be identified and evaluated within the context of the nonprofit’s bylaws, policies, procedures, and historical precedent. I also note that a few articles in Nonprofit Quarterly have discussed coalitions and dominate coalitions in the context of governance and conflicts. Suffice it to say that all perspectives should be considered.

See also, for example,, California Business and Professions Code Section 17510.8, which nonprofits and their officers, directors, employees, agents and representatives should keep in mind. California Business and Professions Code Section 17510.8 provides as follows (note: I have added some underline emphasis):

Notwithstanding any other provision of this article, there exists a fiduciary relationship between a charity or any person soliciting on behalf of a charity, and the person from whom a charitable contribution is being solicited. The acceptance of charitable contributions by a charity or any person soliciting on behalf of a charity establishes a charitable trust and a duty on the part of the charity and the person soliciting on behalf of the charity to use those charitable contributions for the declared charitable purposes for which they are sought. This section is declarative of existing trust law principles.

In prior posts I have also discussed the business judgment rule and standard of care for corporations and nonprofits – for your ease of reference I have pasted below those statutes as they apply to California nonprofits (note: I have added some underline emphasis).

California Corporations Code Section 5231, for nonprofit public benefit corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner that director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within that person’s professional or expert competence; or

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances and without knowledge that would cause that reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) Except as provided in Section 5233, a person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat a public or charitable purpose to which a corporation, or assets held by it, are dedicated.

California Corporations Code Section 7231, for nonprofit mutual benefit corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner such director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within such person’s professional or expert competence; or

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances and without knowledge that would cause such reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) A person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat a public or charitable purpose to which assets held by a corporation are dedicated.

See also Cal. Corp. Code §7231.5:

(a) Except as provided in Section 7233 or 7236, there is no monetary liability on the part of, and no cause of action for damages shall arise against, any volunteer director or volunteer executive officer of a nonprofit corporation subject to this part based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s duties as a director or officer if the duties are performed in a manner that meets all of the following criteria:

(1) The duties are performed in good faith.

(2) The duties are performed in a manner such director or officer believes to be in the best interests of the corporation.

(3) The duties are performed with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) “Volunteer” means the rendering of services without compensation. “Compensation” means remuneration whether by way of salary, fee, or other consideration for services rendered. However, the payment of per diem, mileage, or other reimbursement expenses to a director or executive officer does not affect that person’s status as a volunteer within the meaning of this section.

(c) “Executive officer” means the president, vice president, secretary, or treasurer of a corporation or other individual serving in like capacity who assists in establishing the policy of the corporation.

(d) This section shall apply only to trade, professional, and labor organizations incorporated pursuant to this part which operate exclusively for fraternal, educational, and other nonprofit purposes, and under the provisions of Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.

(e) This section shall not be construed to limit the provisions of Section 7231.

California Corporations Code Section 9241, for nonprofit religious corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner such director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as is appropriate under the circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports, or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants, or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within that person’s professional or expert competence;

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence; or

(4) Religious authorities and ministers, priests, rabbis, or other persons whose position or duties in the religious organization the director believes justify reliance and confidence and whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances, and without knowledge that would cause that reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) The provisions of this section, and not Section 9243, shall govern any action or omission of a director in regard to the compensation of directors, as directors or officers, or any loan of money or property to or guaranty of the obligation of any director or officer. No obligation, otherwise valid, shall be voidable merely because directors who benefited by a board resolution to pay such compensation or to make such loan or guaranty participated in making such board resolution.

(d) Except as provided in Section 9243, a person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge his or her obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat any purpose to which the corporation, or assets held by it, may be dedicated.

See also Cal. Corp. Code §9240(c):

(c) A director, in making a good faith determination, may consider what the director believes to be:

(1) The religious purposes of the corporation; and

(2) Applicable religious tenets, canons, laws, policies, and authority.

—————————————————————

Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this post. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly. And please also subscribe to this blog and my other blog (see below), and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

My law practice primarily involves the following areas and issues:

Probate Court Disputes and Litigation

  • Trust and estate disputes and litigation, and contentious administrations representing fiduciaries and beneficiaries; elder abuse; power of attorney disputes; elder care and nursing home abuse; conservatorships; claims to real and personal property; and other related disputes and litigation.

Business and Business-Related Disputes and Litigation: Private, Closely Held, and Family Businesses; Public Companies; and Nonprofit Entities

  • Business v. business disputes including breach of contract; unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices; fraud, deceit and misrepresentation; unfair competition; licensing agreements, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; etc.
  • Misappropriation of trade secrets
  • M&A disputes
  • Founder, officer, director and board, investor, shareholder, creditor, VC, control, governance, decision making, fiduciary duty, conflict of interest, independence, voting, etc., disputes
  • Buy-sell disputes
  • Funding and share dilution disputes
  • Accounting, lost profits, and royalty disputes and damages
  • Access to corporate and business records disputes
  • Employee, employer and workplace disputes and processes, discrimination, whistleblower and retaliation, harassment, defamation, etc.

Investigations and Governance

  • Corporate and business internal investigations
  • Board, audit committee and special committee governance and processes, disputes, conflicts of interest, independence, culture, ethics, etc.

The following are copies of the tables of contents of three of the more formal materials that I have written over the years about accounting/auditing, audit committees, and related legal topics – Accounting and Its Legal Implications was my first formal effort, which resulted in a published book that had more of an accounting and auditing focus; Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, for the California Continuing Education of the Bar has a more legal focus; and the most recent Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (February 2017) also has a more legal focus:

Accounting and Its Legal Implications

Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, CEB Advising and Defending Corporate Directors and Officers

Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide

The following are other summary materials that you might find useful:

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

From a prior blog post which you can find at https://wp.me/p75iWX-dk if the below scan is too difficult to read:

* * * * *

 

 

The California business judgment rule statutes for corporations, nonprofits, and religious organizations, for your ease of reading and reference

For your ease of reading and reference, the following are the California business judgment rule statutes for:

Corporations – Cal. Corp. Code §309;

Nonprofit public benefit corporations – Cal. Corp. Code §5231;

Nonprofit mutual benefit corporations – Cal. Corp. Code §7231 (and see also §7231.5); and

Nonprofit religious corporations – Cal. Corp. Code §9241 (and see also §9240(c)).

The business judgment rule is state specific – see, for example, Del. Gen. Corp. Law §141 for Delaware corporations, in addition to relevant case law.

Also note that the statutory business judgment rule differs some for corporations, nonprofit public benefit corporations, nonprofit mutual benefit corporations, and nonprofit religious corporations.

Why am I posting this information? Because the business judgment rule is a good rule for people to follow, and to consider, in public company, private business, nonprofit organization, and governmental entity settings and situations. And in this context, when I refer to “people,” I am not referring only to directors, but also to officers, managers and all people throughout the organization. Note: I am not representing that all of these people are legally required to follow the business judgment rule – indeed, the rule is merely a possible defense to liability and possibly relevant to the burden of proof for the people to which it applies and who fact follow the rule – for other people, in the context of this post I am merely suggesting that all people should consider following the rule, or at least keep it in mind as possible guidance in a multitude of public company, private business, nonprofit organization, and governmental entity settings and situations.

Also note that I underlined the provisions below that are underlined (that is, the wording below that is underlined is not underlined in the actual statute).

California Corporations Code Section 309, for corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner such director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and its shareholders and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by any of the following:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented.

(2) Counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within such person’s professional or expert competence.

(3) A committee of the board upon which the director does not serve, as to matters within its designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence, so long as, in any such case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances and without knowledge that would cause such reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) A person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s obligations as a director. In addition, the liability of a director for monetary damages may be eliminated or limited in a corporation’s articles to the extent provided in paragraph (10) of subdivision (a) of Section 204.

(Amended by Stats. 1987, Ch. 1203, Sec. 2. Effective September 27, 1987.)

California Corporations Code Section 5231, for nonprofit public benefit corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner that director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within that person’s professional or expert competence; or

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances and without knowledge that would cause that reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) Except as provided in Section 5233, a person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat a public or charitable purpose to which a corporation, or assets held by it, are dedicated.

(Amended by Stats. 2009, Ch. 631, Sec. 14. (AB 1233) Effective January 1, 2010.)

California Corporations Code Section 7231, for nonprofit mutual benefit corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner such director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within such person’s professional or expert competence; or

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances and without knowledge that would cause such reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) A person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat a public or charitable purpose to which assets held by a corporation are dedicated.

(Amended by Stats. 2009, Ch. 631, Sec. 24. (AB 1233) Effective January 1, 2010.)

See also Cal. Corp. Code §7231.5:

(a) Except as provided in Section 7233 or 7236, there is no monetary liability on the part of, and no cause of action for damages shall arise against, any volunteer director or volunteer executive officer of a nonprofit corporation subject to this part based upon any alleged failure to discharge the person’s duties as a director or officer if the duties are performed in a manner that meets all of the following criteria:

(1) The duties are performed in good faith.

(2) The duties are performed in a manner such director or officer believes to be in the best interests of the corporation.

(3) The duties are performed with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as an ordinarily prudent person in a like position would use under similar circumstances.

(b) “Volunteer” means the rendering of services without compensation. “Compensation” means remuneration whether by way of salary, fee, or other consideration for services rendered. However, the payment of per diem, mileage, or other reimbursement expenses to a director or executive officer does not affect that person’s status as a volunteer within the meaning of this section.

(c) “Executive officer” means the president, vice president, secretary, or treasurer of a corporation or other individual serving in like capacity who assists in establishing the policy of the corporation.

(d) This section shall apply only to trade, professional, and labor organizations incorporated pursuant to this part which operate exclusively for fraternal, educational, and other nonprofit purposes, and under the provisions of Section 501(c) of the United States Internal Revenue Code.

(e) This section shall not be construed to limit the provisions of Section 7231.

(Amended by Stats. 1990, Ch. 107, Sec. 5.)

California Corporations Code Section 9241, for nonprofit religious corporations:

(a) A director shall perform the duties of a director, including duties as a member of any committee of the board upon which the director may serve, in good faith, in a manner such director believes to be in the best interests of the corporation and with such care, including reasonable inquiry, as is appropriate under the circumstances.

(b) In performing the duties of a director, a director shall be entitled to rely on information, opinions, reports, or statements, including financial statements and other financial data, in each case prepared or presented by:

(1) One or more officers or employees of the corporation whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented;

(2) Counsel, independent accountants, or other persons as to matters which the director believes to be within that person’s professional or expert competence;

(3) A committee upon which the director does not serve that is composed exclusively of any or any combination of directors, persons described in paragraph (1), or persons described in paragraph (2), as to matters within the committee’s designated authority, which committee the director believes to merit confidence; or

(4) Religious authorities and ministers, priests, rabbis, or other persons whose position or duties in the religious organization the director believes justify reliance and confidence and whom the director believes to be reliable and competent in the matters presented, so long as, in any case, the director acts in good faith, after reasonable inquiry when the need therefor is indicated by the circumstances, and without knowledge that would cause that reliance to be unwarranted.

(c) The provisions of this section, and not Section 9243, shall govern any action or omission of a director in regard to the compensation of directors, as directors or officers, or any loan of money or property to or guaranty of the obligation of any director or officer. No obligation, otherwise valid, shall be voidable merely because directors who benefited by a board resolution to pay such compensation or to make such loan or guaranty participated in making such board resolution.

(d) Except as provided in Section 9243, a person who performs the duties of a director in accordance with subdivisions (a) and (b) shall have no liability based upon any alleged failure to discharge his or her obligations as a director, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any actions or omissions which exceed or defeat any purpose to which the corporation, or assets held by it, may be dedicated.

(Amended by Stats. 2009, Ch. 631, Sec. 33. (AB 1233) Effective January 1, 2010.)

See also Cal. Corp. Code §9240(c):

(c) A director, in making a good faith determination, may consider what the director believes to be:

(1) The religious purposes of the corporation; and

(2) Applicable religious tenets, canons, laws, policies, and authority.

(Amended by Stats. 1987, Ch. 923, Sec. 1.4. Operative January 1, 1988, by Sec. 103 of Ch. 923.)

—————————————————————

Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

The following are copies of the tables of contents of three of the more formal materials that I have written over the years about accounting/auditing, audit committees, and related legal topics – Accounting and Its Legal Implications was my first formal effort, which resulted in a published book that had more of an accounting and auditing focus; Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, for the California Continuing Education of the Bar has a more legal focus; and the most recent Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (February 2017) also has a more legal focus:

Accounting and Its Legal Implications

Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, CEB Advising and Defending Corporate Directors and Officers

Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide

The following are other summary materials that you might find useful:

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

From a prior blog post which you can find at https://wp.me/p75iWX-dk if the below scan is too difficult to read:

* * * * *

 

 

 

 

 

Forwarding from The FCPA Blog – “Yes, ‘ethical culture’ can be measured” or audited – and so can governance, risk management, compliance, and almost everything, etc. . . .

I am forwarding a July 22, 2019, post by Vera Cherepanova on the FCPA Blog – the following is the link to Ms. Cherepanova’s post: http://www.fcpablog.com/blog/2019/7/22/yes-ethical-culture-can-be-measured.html

Ms. Cherepanova highlights the recent Department of Justice update to its “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs,” and also references the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines, noting that both in part refer to the importance “for a company to create and foster a culture of ethics and compliance.” She then queries: “But how does a company measure its culture of compliance, and what steps does it take in response to its measurement of the compliance culture?” Responding to her query, Ms. Cherepanova states, “Although they sometimes may be labeled differently, the key five you would want to incorporate [into] your measurement include the following: Achievability of targets, goals, and tasks . . . Communication . . . Leadership . . . Organizational justice . . . [and] Accountability.”

I view the blog post as discussing at least two issues: “yes, ethical culture can be measured,” and “criteria that might be used to measure ethical culture.” My response to the first issue also is “yes.” In fact, ethical culture not only can be measured, but can also be audited, such as by internal audit or outside audit. Related to culture, tone-at-the-top and internal controls and control processes have long been recognized as elements in an audit at least from the standpoint of evaluating the possibility of fraud and the extent to which records can be relied upon in designing the audit. Almost anything can be audited including, for example, not just financial transactions but also governance, risk management or risk management processes, compliance with laws, and the list is almost endless.

The more challenging issue is what criteria to use to measure or audit ethical culture and other areas? And, of course, there are follow up issues such as determining who will actually perform and evaluate the measurement or audit process, and will the task of establishing ethical culture not only involve management but also oversight by the board, or the audit committee, or a separate risk committee? Guidelines require board and/or board committee oversight. Relevant to these issues, also click on the following link for a May 2019 post that I wrote about the new DOJ guidelines https://wp.me/p75iWX-fc

Ms. Cherepanova lists some good key areas to measure or audit. It is possible to add additional key areas, and additional criteria can be added to the five areas that the blog post identifies. I’m not being critical of the five key areas that are listed, instead, I am merely pointing out that there is lack of agreement on the key areas to include in the measurement or audit process. Certainly at least DOJ and court case guidance should be consulted. It should also be added, for example, the establishment of a robust anonymous reporting process, and related investigation processes. In addition to others, you should also consult legal counsel for additional guidance. Consider using a team approach as these topics can require input from attorneys and other professionals who have backgrounds in a multitude of different areas.

Ms. Cherepanova’s post raises many additional issues, in fact too many to cover in this post. Under Leadership and Accountability, for example, does or will the alleged wrongdoer’s stature or status within the organization impact the investigation and/or the resulting discipline, if any? These can be difficult questions. Whereas one might argue that stature or status should not be relevant criteria, the severity of disciplinary measures can both positively and negatively impact an organization when a key member of the organization is involved.

My view has been and remains that organizational culture and ethical culture are here to stay as significant or at least relevant organizational issues.

—————————————————————

Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the new Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

The following are copies of the tables of contents of three of the more formal materials that I have written over the years about accounting/auditing, audit committees, and related legal topics – Accounting and Its Legal Implications was my first formal effort, which resulted in a published book that had more of an accounting and auditing focus; Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, for the California Continuing Education of the Bar has a more legal focus; and the most recent Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (February 2017) also has a more legal focus:

Accounting and Its Legal Implications

Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, CEB Advising and Defending Corporate Directors and Officers

Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide

The following are other summary materials that you might find useful:

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

From a prior blog post which you can find at https://wp.me/p75iWX-dk if the below scan is too difficult to read:

* * * * *

Ethical Lapses, Illegal Actions, And Corporate Governance – What Should A Board And Business Do – Forwarding Post By Scott Wornow – Chocked-Full Of Helpful Information

I am forwarding a timely and helpful discussion by Scott Wornow of the Coblentz firm in which Scott discusses situations that we now regularly see in the multi-media social, business and political news: issues and situations to consider when an executive, or the business, or a high-profile person who is associated with or linked to the business is accused of a significant unethical or illegal act or lapse of judgment. Below I have provided a link to Scott’s discussion, and I have also provided a few snapshots from Scott’s discussion. Headings contained in Scott’s discussion include, for example, topics covering Contracts and Quasi-Contracts; Morals Clauses; Fiduciary Considerations; and Regulatory; Compliance and Risk Management. Scott’s discussion covers a lot of issues in a concise and to-the-point discussion. This is a discussion that is important for all businesses including public companies, nonprofits and NGOs, private companies, and even governmental entities.

These issues can cross into many different areas including law, liability and remedial actions, social and business reputation, crisis management, investigations, internal controls, governance and leadership, “righting the ship,” culture, HR and tone at the top, enterprise risk management (ERM) processes and who has responsibility for risk management, compliance policies and processes, protecting the business’s assets pre- and post-crisis, ESG, boards and audit and risk committees, the FCPA, the new DOJ guidelines on corporate compliance programs, internal and outside audit, executive officers, directors, senior managerial officers and other professionals, and in-house counsel responsibilities and possible liability, dealing with regulatory agencies, and other areas. Also consider whether the industry in which the business operates is subject to additional specific statutes, regulations, rules, or expectations that are relevant to these topics. You will find discussions on many of these topics throughout this blog.

The following are some snapshots from Scott’s discussion (I added the yellow highlights), and below the snapshots I have provided a direct link to Scott’s full discussion.

Click on the following link to access Scott’s full discussion.

Ethical Lapses, Illegal Actions, and Corporate Governance

—————————————————————

Remember, every case and situation is different. It is important to obtain and evaluate all of the evidence that is available, and to apply that evidence to the applicable standards and laws. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Thank you for reading this website. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

I am also the new Chair of the Business Law Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Blogs: Trust, estate/probate, power of attorney, conservatorship, elder and dependent adult abuse, nursing home and care, disability, discrimination, personal injury, responsibilities and rights, and other related litigation, and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; Business, D&O, board, director, audit committee, shareholder, founder, owner, and investor litigation, governance, responsibilities and rights, compliance, investigations, and risk management  http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

The following are copies of the tables of contents of three of the more formal materials that I have written over the years about accounting/auditing, audit committees, and related legal topics – Accounting and Its Legal Implications was my first formal effort, which resulted in a published book that had more of an accounting and auditing focus; Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, for the California Continuing Education of the Bar has a more legal focus; and the most recent Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide (February 2017) also has a more legal focus:

Accounting and Its Legal Implications

Chapter 5A, Audit Committee Functions and Responsibilities, CEB Advising and Defending Corporate Directors and Officers

Tate’s Excellent Audit Committee Guide

The following are other summary materials that you might find useful:

OVERVIEW OF A RISK MANAGEMENT PROCESS THAT YOU CAN USE 03162018

Audit Committee 5 Lines of Success, Diligence, and Defense - David Tate, Esq, 05052018

COSO Enterprise Risk Management Framework ERM Components and Principles

From a prior blog post which you can find at https://wp.me/p75iWX-dk if the below scan is too difficult to read:

* * * * *

Society of Professional Journalists – Code of Ethics – Good Standards for Media and Social Media

I have pasted below the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which I found at https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp. The Code was news to me. The SPJ should publicly promote its Code offers some good guidance for media, and social media.

The Code is divided into four primary headings: Seek Trust and Report It; Minimize Harm; Act Independently; and Be Accountable and Transparent.”

I do have a few comments. The SPJ states that the Code is not a set of rules, but is a guide. Generally I tend to view a code of ethics as rules or standards that are to be followed, not simply guidance. I assume the response would not be favorable if a business defended questionable actions by taking the position that its code of ethics was just a guide.

One theme that the Code presents, with which I agree, is that the public is entitled to as much reliable, identified, source materials as possible so as to allow the members of the public the ability to determine for themselves:  “The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motives of sources.” “Use original sources whenever possible.” “Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.” “Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.” I would add: as a general rule don’t use, cite or quote anonymous sources, and if you do use, cite or quote an anonymous source, provide as much information about that source as possible. For example, if you cannot provide the person’s name, provide how they obtained the information that they provided, and, as relevant, with what organization, party, group, or employer do they associate?

The heading “Act Independently” states in part that “Journalists should: – Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” I would add under that heading – Journalists should avoid journalist or reporter bias. And I would add, disclose bias, although I suspect that having to disclose bias would be viewed as difficult.

I like “Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of the news story,” and “Label advocacy and commentary.” I would add, report the evidence, and avoid journalist editorializing, opinions, viewpoints, conclusions, elaboration, adjectives, adverbs, and added “facts,”  unless it is labeled as such. Or the writer or speaker can say “I believe that . . . ” or “In my opinion . . . ” or “In my view . . . ” or “I have a different view . . . ” or “I don’t believe that . . . ” or something along those lines. I would also add, include a summary of relevant evidence, sources and information that are currently unknown, and, thus, not included.

I recommend most of the Code’s standards. Whether the standards are followed or not is a different question and different issue. You might want to keep the Code in mind as you read, evaluate, engage in, and comment about media and social media.

Here is a screenshot of the SPJ Code of Ethics:

Thank you for reading this post. I ask that you also pass it along to other people who would be interested as it is through collaboration that great things and success occur more quickly. And please also subscribe to this blog and my other blog (see below), and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Every case situation is different. You do need to consult with an attorney and other professionals about your particular situation. This post is not a solicitation for legal or other services inside of or outside of California, and, of course, this post only is a summary of information that changes from time to time, and does not apply to any particular situation or to your specific situation. So . . . you cannot rely on this post for your situation or as legal or other professional advice or representation.

Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

Blogs: California trust, estate, and elder abuse litigation and contentious administrations http://californiaestatetrust.com; D&O, audit committee, governance, litigation, investigations, liability, and risk management http://auditcommitteeupdate.com

 

 

NEW NINTH CIRCUIT CASE – PLAINTIFF CANNOT BRING A SECURITIES CASE FOR BREACH OF THE CORPORATE CODE OF ETHICS . . . WELL, NOT SO FAST . . . .

On January 19, 2017, the Ninth Circuit dismissed a securities fraud case holding that the claim could not legally be brought where shareholders of Hewlett-Packard Company (“HP”) alleged that the Company CEO and Chairman violated Hewlett-Packard’s Corporate Code of Ethics after publicly touting the Company’s high standards for ethics and compliance while at the same time himself violating the provisions in the Code of Ethics. The case is Retail Wholesale & Department Store Union Local 338 Retirement Fund v. Hewlett-Packard Co. and Mark A. Hurd, Ninth Circuit Case No. 14-16433 and District Court Case No. 3:12-cv-04115-JST (Northern District of California) and you can view the case at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2017/01/19/14-16433.pdf.

Plaintiffs’ claim was brought under §10 and Rule 10–b of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Court’s decision is helpful from a defense viewpoint, but the decision shouldn’t be viewed too broadly. In summary, the Court held as follows (note: the below quotes from the case are not necessarily in the exact order in which they appeared in the Court’s decision):

“Retail Wholesale argues that the SBC [HP’s Standards of Business Conduct], bolstered by Defendants’ express promotion of corporate ethics, gives rise to a finding of material misrepresentation. Its claim is based in three factual allegations: (1) HP and Hurd actively promoted the SBC and stated that HP had zero tolerance for SBC violations; (2) Hurd’s SBC violations led to his resignation; and (3) Hurd’s resignation caused HP’s stock price to drop. The Court cannot agree that, under the facts alleged in the complaint, Defendants’ representations about ethics were materially misleading.”

“Defendants made no objectively verifiable statements during the Class Period. As one court has aptly written, a code of conduct is “inherently aspirational.” Andropolis, 505 F. Supp. 2d at 686. Such a code expresses opinions as to what actions are preferable, as opposed to implying that all staff, directors, and officers always adhere to its aspirations. See id.”

“Similarly, Hurd’s comments prefacing the SBC are not objectively verifiable. In the 2008 preface to the SBC, Hurd stated, in part,

We want to be a company known for its ethical leadership . . . .

We know actions speak louder than words. We must make decisions and behave in ways that we can be proud of, that reflect our commitment to doing the right thing . . . .

. . . . Let us commit together, as individuals and as a company, to build trust in everything we do by living our values and conducting business consistent with the high ethical standards within our SBC.”

“The aspirational nature of these statements is evident. They emphasize a desire to commit to certain “shared values” outlined in the SBC and provide a “vague statement[] of optimism,” not capable of objective verification. See Or. Pub. Emps., 774 F.3d at 606. A contrary interpretation—that statements such as, for example, the SBC’s “we make ethical decisions,” or Hurd’s prefatory statements, can be measured for compliance—is simply untenable, as it could turn all corporate wrongdoing into securities fraud.”

However, and equally important, the Court also stated:

“We note that the case may have been closer had Hurd’s sexual harassment and false expenses scandal involved facts remotely similar to those presented by the 2006 scandal [i.e., an earlier unrelated ethics problem at HP in which “A few years earlier, in 2006, a major scandal erupted when a whistleblower informed several government agencies that HP had hired detectives to monitor the phone records and email accounts of HP directors, HP employees, and journalists to find the sources of leaks of company information to the press”], as the ethical code could then have been understood as at least promising specifically not to do what had been done in 2006. Here, however, the context does not make HP’s promotion of business ethics any less subjective or vague. Further, Retail Wholesale cites to no case law suggesting that context may operate to allow a plaintiff to import an out-of-Class-Period statement into the Class Period. The strongest statement alleged in the complaint—the suggestion of a zero tolerance policy for SBC violations—was made outside of the Class Period.”

“In sum, we conclude that as there was no statement during the Class Period that was capable of being objectively false, there was no affirmative misrepresentation.”

It could be easy to read the case too broadly, and to conclude that a securities fraud claim cannot be brought for violation of the company’s code of ethics. Whether such a claim can be brought really depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Further, and depending on the facts of each case, it might be possible that such a claim could be brought under a different legal theory such as, for example, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Thus, companies, and their officers, managing agents and directors still must be advised to know the company’s Code of Ethics, to follow the Code, and to be careful about making specific representations about following, satisfying or complying with the Code.

* * * * *

Who Evaluates the Chief Audit Executive (CAE)?

At the bottom of this post is a screen shot from the new publication Ethics and Pressure, Balancing the Internal Audit Profession, published primarily from the 2015 global practitioner survey of internal auditors worldwide. This is a really big survey. What do you think of the screen shot? Is it appropriate for management to evaluate the chief audit executive (“CAE”)? I say “yes,” of course.

I note however, that the writer also says “Exhibit 9 indicates that this responsibility [i.e., the responsibility for evaluating the performance of the CAE] is generally split evenly between management and the board. The big exception is in North America, where 61% of CAE’s are formally evaluated by management. Often however, these evaluations are reviewed by an audit committee.”

Let me just say, and I read a fair amount of materials from or relating to the internal audit profession, these sentences from the writer probably speak volumes. Do you mean to say that the audit committee isn’t always also doing its own evaluation of internal audit? I really hope that’s not what the writer is saying.

If you are on an audit committee, do you evaluate the performance of the CAE and of the internal audit function (if you have an internal audit function)? I certainly hope so. I mean, regardless of how internal audit operates with management, as an audit committee member aren’t you interacting with internal audit also, and isn’t internal audit helping you to satisfy your due diligence responsibilities? If not, you really need to sit down and think about how the audit committee is using internal audit.

And, if you are an internal audit CAE or member, if the audit committee isn’t sufficiently interested in you to evaluate your performance and how you help or don’t help the audit committee, then you are really missing the boat with a significant entity (i.e., the audit committee) that you should be helping.

In fact, most of the materials that I read from internal audit miss the boat, in my opinion. Yes, management’s use and interaction with internal audit is very important, but the audit committee really should value and make use of the availability of internal audit to help the audit committee satisfy it’s duties. If this isn’t happening, both the audit committee and internal audit are missing out on a tremendous opportunity. It might also be argued that both are failing to satisfy their responsibilities.

Here’s the screen shot from the survey and discussion:

who-evaluates-the-cae