After you have spent years attending classes, studying, and passing licensing exams, obtaining your professional license is a significant milestone. However, even after achieving your career goals, you still must follow the rules and laws that govern your profession. Violations of those rules or laws can lead to licensing board investigations and, possibly, disciplinary action against your license.
Any disciplinary complaint alleging a rule or law violation can have substantial negative consequences for your professional life. If you face allegations such as these, consult an experienced licensing board defense attorney. Your attorney can represent your interests from the outset of any investigation and during disciplinary proceedings by your licensing board. In addition, you can benefit from legal representation throughout this process, including during informal conferences.
Understanding the Role of the Informal Conference
Disciplinary proceedings vary from one profession or occupation to another. However, many licensing boards or agencies offer an informal conference at which they attempt to resolve pending disciplinary complaints before resorting to formal disciplinary proceedings and hearings.
Texas Medical Board
For example, when the appropriate investigating body of the Texas Medical Board investigates a complaint about a physician and determines that a violation of the rules or laws that govern physicians has occurred, it refers the case to the Litigation Department for a possible Informal Settlement Conference (ISC). A staff attorney sets the ISC before a Medical Board disciplinary panel to review the information and give the physician, the subject of the complaint, an opportunity to show that they comply with the Texas Medical Practice Act.
Following the ISC, the Medical Board panel can either refer the case for dismissal, offer an Agreed Order setting out the potential sanctions and terms for the violation, or offer a non-disciplinary corrective Remedial Plan for certain minor violations. If the parties cannot agree on one of these informal options, the case may proceed to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) for a formal evidentiary hearing.
Texas State Board of Pharmacy
The Texas State Board of Pharmacy also holds informal settlement conferences as part of its disciplinary proceedings. After an investigation reveals that a licensee has violated a law or rule about pharmacists, the Board will allow the licensee to attend the informal conference and advise them of the issues it intends to discuss. The complainant also may attend the informal conference if the law permits, although some informal conferences may be confidential.
The licensee has the burden of showing compliance with the law at the informal settlement conference. A panel of the Board, which usually consists of two Board members and Board staff, proposes a recommendation for settlement of the case after hearing evidence from the licensee. Potential dispositions may include dismissal, a formal warning, or a disciplinary sanction. If the panel recommends a sanction and the licensee accepts that recommendation, the parties can sign an Agreed Board Order (ABO). Staff will then present the Order to the Board for approval at their next meeting. However, if the licensee does not accept the proposed ABO, the case may proceed to a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.
Texas Board of Nursing
The Texas Board of Nursing (BON) also may provide the option of an informal settlement conference to some licensees facing disciplinary complaints. Licensees and their attorneys can attend an informal conference with a BON attorney and staff to present evidence and discuss possible settlement options, usually in the form of an Agreed Order or an informal settlement proposal. Sanctions in an Agreed Order can range from a reprimand to a license suspension.
The parties can negotiate the terms of the Agreed Order. If the parties agree to the conditions and sanctions in a settlement proposal, the parties will sign the Agreed Order. The BON then must review and approve the Agreed Order.
Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council
The Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC) administers disciplinary proceedings for marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, psychologists, and social workers. If BHEC receives a complaint about one of these professionals and finds probable cause that a violation has occurred, it refers the case to an informal settlement conference (ISC) before agency staff or a Disciplinary Review Panel of three board members. Staff may send the licensee a proposed agreed or settlement offer before scheduling an ISC. If the licensee rejects the settlement offer or requests an ISC, BHEC staff will schedule the ISC.
The licensee and complainant may appear separately at the ISC and present evidence. After hearing the evidence, BHEC staff or the Disciplinary Review Panel will recommend an informal disposition of the complaint. The recommendation for disposition may be dismissal, remand for further investigation, or disciplinary action. Any recommendation for disciplinary action is sent to the licensee as a settlement offer, which the licensee may accept and sign as an Agreed Order or reject. If the licensee rejects the Agreed Order, the case progresses to formal disciplinary action before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
We Are Here to Defend You Throughout Your Investigation
Facing an investigation and potential disciplinary proceedings before a professional licensing board can be a difficult and stressful experience. Losing your professional license can leave you without the means to support yourself or use the degree that you have earned. However, we may be able to help you resolve your disciplinary investigation in the most positive manner possible. Get legal assistance from an experienced license defense lawyer today. Contact Bertolino LLP at (512) 515-9518 or visit us online.