The CFP Board has hired the lead lawyer from its case against two Florida planners as its general counsel, the most recent change to the board's embattled disciplinary and legal leadership.

Leo Rydzewski, formerly of the large Washington D.C. law firm Holland & Knight, now will oversee the board's ongoing litigation against planners Jeffrey and Kimberly Camarda, of Fleming Island, Fla., from inside the board, according to the board's CEO Kevin Keller. He becomes the board's first general counsel since 2006. An as-yet-unnamed counsel from Holland & Knight is positioned to assume Rydzewski's former role in the case as lead counsel, Keller says.

CLOSE RELATIONSHIP

"He's been living with us for the past several years," Keller said of Rydzewski, speaking metaphorically about the intense work surrounding the defense of the ongoing Camardas case. "There's probably nobody – certainly nobody outside of CFP board – who understands our standards or professional conduct better than Leo."

The board's newly named director of investigations, former SEC official John Loesch will report to Rydzewski, Keller says. Loesch's appointment last month coincided with the departure of its beleaguered, longtime head of disciplinary and legal affairs, Michael Shaw. Shaw was Keller's first hire, and arguably closest collaborator at the board, after he became CEO in 2007.

NEW POSITION

The decision to create the position of general counsel has nothing to do with the Camardas case, Keller says.

"I'm charged by the board with aligning the staff of the organization … to achieve our goals," he says. "As I do from time to time, I look at the organizational structure of the board and it seemed like the right thing to do.

"As general counsel, one of [Rydzewski's] important roles will be to manage the litigation counsel," Keller says. "In addition to that, he will be providing strategic legal counsel to me and to the CFP Board."

As a partner at Holland & Knight, Rydzewski conducted commercial litigation, focused particularly on insurance and financial services. Prior to joining Holland & Knight, Rydzewski served as a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Federico A. Moreno in Florida. He also received the Florida Bar President Pro Bono Service Award for litigating what was then the largest child welfare class action in the nation, according to a statement from the board.

DISCIPLINARY PRACTICES

Given Rydzewski's extensive experience working on a landmark disciplinary case against CFPs, one lawyer raised a question about Keller's choice of general counsel.

"Does the CFP Board’s hiring of Rydzewski signal that they anticipate a more antagonistic relationship with its certificants?" asked Brian Hamburger, who regularly represents CFPs in disciplinary cases brought by the CFP Board.

The board didn't respond directly to this particular speculation, but through its spokesman Dan Drummond said more generally that Rydzewski is "excited" to work with CFPs across the country.

Over the past two years, the board has investigated – and in some cases – punished several of its own volunteer officials over alleged compensation disclosure violations, the issue at the heart of the Camardas' case.

Many of these former officials and CFPs say the board's disciplinary practices have created a climate of fear among CFPs who are afraid to challenge the board lest they become targets of investigations themselves.

While some CFPs have gone through lengthy investigations, or received sanctions, hundreds of other CFPs, who've done the same or similar things, have received no punishment, or have even been granted outright amnesty. Given that volunteer officials sign confidentiality agreements with the board, many fear legal repercussions and say they are unable to discuss these cases publicly. 

CAMARDAS CASE

Over the course of dozens of motions filed in the Camardas case in federal court in Washington D.C., Rydzewski and his team often take a strong tone in addressing the court, with varying results.

Just over a year ago, Rydzewski and his team sought to quash the Camardas' requests for thousands of documents, calling them a "complete waste of time because the court will not consider them."

Shortly thereafter, the judge ruled in favor of the Camardas, forcing the board to produce the documents at large expense.

Keller says he disagrees with those who would characterize Rydzewski's tone in many of the filings as high-handed.

"I would say he's being a strong, effective advocate for us," Keller says.

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