Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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June 5, 2013

Griffin- Roughton case settled

Recent decision criticizes Funeral Commission

Corsicana — After five years of lawyers and hearings, the accusations against Bill Roughton, Billy Roughton, and Griffin-Roughton Funeral Home are seemingly settled.

In the end, an administrative judge decided that Roughton did violate the Texas Occupations Code, but doesn’t recommend any further sanctions in the matter. The judge also used harsh words in condemning the follow-up investigation by the Funeral Service Commission, and ordered the agency to pay all the court costs.

In his decision, State Office of Administrative Affairs Judge Roy G. Scudday in Austin took exception to the way the investigation was handled, implying that investigators with the Funeral Commission had an ax to grind and violated their own policies in pursuing the investigation beyond what the Texas Commission on Banking had already done. In a March hearing, the investigator admitted she lied to the Roughtons.

At issue was whether Griffin Roughton Funeral Home and the Roughtons violated rules about prepaid funeral services. Under state law, the regulations of prepaid funeral plans are administered by the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Department of Banking and the Texas Funeral Service Commission, jointly.

The banking department began the investigation in 2007. After the banking commission investigators had completed their work the Roughtons paid back the money they’d accepted for the plans, got the necessary permit to sell them in the future and paid a fine. Then the Funeral Service Commission came back for seconds.

In June 2008, Roughton asked for a formal hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Four years later, the SOAH got the request.

The SOAH judge was not kind to the FSC state investigators in his decision.

Referring to the investigator with the Funeral Services Commission, the judge stated in his “Findings of Facts,” that “No part of her investigation was new or different from the investigation already conducted by the DOB.”

He also pointed out that the investigator lied to the Roughtons during the investigation to get them to talk to her. In a transcript of the hearing, the judge asked the investigator if she had an “ax to grind,’ against the Roughtons. She denied it.

Nonetheless, the judge concluded that while the Roughtons may have violated the rules of the Texas Finance Code, no more actions should be taken against them.

The Roughton’s lawyer, Steven Grubbs, said it’s a “complete victory” for the Roughtons.

“The judge was so mad that he ordered the Funeral Home Commission to bear the entire cost of the proceeding,” Grubbs pointed out. “This never happens. That’s how mad he was.”

The case was heard by the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which is a kind of appeals process for people going up against state agencies. The FSC could decide to appeal the decision, but Grubbs said he would be very surprised if that happens.

“The agency, after having their hands slapped, can decide not to adopt the opinion of the judge, and that’s highly unusual. Given the facts, I’d be quite surprised if they do that. It’s one of those things that this is so bad and embarrassing for them I can’t imagine they’d want this to live on.”

—————

Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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