Auctioneers (not) protecting the public?

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baberuthI’ve had the opportunity to talk to 1,000’s of auctioneers over the years.

Sometimes the subject involves some auctioneer doing something either unethical and/or illegal.

For example, at an auctioneer convention a few years ago, an auctioneer told me this:

    “Yeah Mike, did you hear about that auctioneer who was selling fake sports memorabilia as authentic? I think he’s got another one of those auctions scheduled next month over in Smithville.”

I asked the auctioneer telling me the story what he intended to do about it. Generally, when I hear a story like this from an auctioneer, the plan is usually to do one of the following:

    • Do nothing
    • Inform the injured party
    • Inform the injuring party
    • Intercede and try to resolve the problem himself
    • Inform a regulatory agency, governmental oversight and/or an auctioneer association

Of the five basic things I hear, the most of common response is essentially, “I’m not doing anything … It’s not my problem.”

We live in a common law country for the most part. Common law lays out four categories of what is called, “accomplice liability:”

    1. Principal first degree — person at the scene of the crime who commits the crime. He is the perpetrator of the crime.
    2. Principal second degree — person at the scene of the crime assisting in some way but is not the perpetrator.
    3. Accessory before the fact — someone who is not at the scene of the crime but knows about it in advance and provides assistance.
    4. Accessory after the fact — not present at the scene and does not know about the crime until after it has been committed and then aids and provides assistance after the crime has been committed.

While none of the four accomplice liability principles seem to directly suggest an auctioneer would have to report or otherwise intercede in regard to another auctioneer’s unethical and/or illegal activity, there’s more to consider.

Most all auctioneer license states dictate that licensees are charged with protecting the public. Further, most state and national auctioneer associations dictate that members are to protect the public.

In our example of fake sports memorabilia, wouldn’t a policy of protecting the public require an auctioneer who knew of this misdeed to somehow try to (at minimum) prevent it from happening again — and thus protecting the public from the same?

I well understand the issue for most auctioneers: “If I report this auctioneer, this auctioneer will come after me somehow. I can’t put my own company, family and employees at risk just to protect the public from an another auctioneer’s misdeeds.”

Certainly this concern is legitimate. However, if the reporting auctioneer isn’t doing anything unethical and/or illegal, and has even minimal insurance, the cost to protect against potential retaliation is small contrasted with the greater good of safeguarding the public.

Independent from preconceived notions, I tend to think it is an auctioneer’s duty to protect the public even if that means protecting them from other auctioneers. However, I don’t sense that is the sentiment of most auctioneers.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.

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