ANNAPOLIS – A 2-year-old dispute arising from projects in Chestertown nearly cost James R. Clark his Maryland architect’s license. But Clark was vindicated Thursday when the Court of Special Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling against the State Board of Architecture.
In 1995, the board suspended Clark’s license for two years and fined him $400 after finding him guilty of aiding and abetting an unlicensed individual in the practice of architecture.
The board also accused Clark of engaging in “plan stamping” — the act of fraudulently approving someone else’s work without prior review. This violates the architect’s code of ethics.
Clark appealed the board’s decision last year in Kent County Circuit Court. Judge J. Frederick Price ruled that the board erred in applying the law and reversed its decision. The board then took the case to the Court of Special Appeals.
The charges stemmed from two building permits issued in Chestertown.
Court documents show that R. Thomas Vincent, then a lumber store draftsman, drew up plans for a second-story addition to a building. Vincent said the drawings were used only to estimate the cost of materials.
But a copy of these same plans was attached to the application for a building permit, which was issued in October 1992.
Vincent’s second project was a rough sketch of the floor plan for a TCBY franchise. Again, the drawing was attached to the application for a building permit, issued in April 1993 by the town manager, William Ingersoll.
Ingersoll later informed Vincent of a new building code requiring all plans to be updated.
Enter Clark, who was contacted by Vincent to bring first the TCBY plans, then the second-story addition plans, up to code. Clark made revisions and signed the plans, affixing his state- issued stamp. The same thing happened with the addition.
Several architects then filed complaints with the architects’ board, alleging that Clark was aiding an unlicensed person in the practice of architecture.
The Court of Special Appeals ruled that since Vincent had completed the original drawings without Clark’s involvement, Clark could not be guilty of aiding and abetting Vincent.
Addressing whether Clark had improperly stamped Vincent’s work, the court found that Clark’s revisions were substantial enough to meet the standard: that he have direct and professional knowledge and direct supervisory control over the work in question.
Two years, one administrative hearing and two appeals later, Clark has spent $10,000 for attorney fees. He suspects the motivation for the charges is professional jealousy.
“I’ve been in the field for 30 years, and I’ve never had anything on my record before,” Clark said from his Milton, Del., office.
Clark didn’t lose any business because the court allowed him to continue his practice pending the outcome of the case. Nonetheless, he believes his professional reputation has been damaged.
“Everyone knows about it,” said Clark, who is licensed in Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia. “I had to report to each state that licensed me.” Jonathan Krasnoff, the attorney representing the board, had no comment because he had not yet received a copy of the opinion. -30-