After you have spent years attending school, studying, and passing, obtaining your professional license is a major milestone. Nonetheless, even after achieving your career goals, you still must follow all the rules and laws governing your profession. Violations of those rules or laws can lead to licensing board investigations and, ultimately, disciplinary action against your license.
Any disciplinary complaint alleging a violation of a rule or law can have substantial negative consequences for your professional life. If you are facing allegations such as these, you should 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. You can benefit from legal representation throughout all stages of this process.
Licensing Board Investigation Procedures
Every Texas licensing board or agency processes complaints and conducts its investigation differently. Most agencies perform an initial analysis of any complaints that they receive and make two determinations:
- Whether the agency has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint, and
- Whether the allegations, if true, constitute a violation of the laws or rules that govern the licensed professional.
If the agency determines that the complaint meets these two threshold inquiries, it typically forwards the complaint to an investigator for further inquiry.
The extent, nature, and timeline of an investigation depend on agency procedures. For example, some agencies have strict timelines for investigations, whereas others will take as long as necessary to complete a thorough investigation.
Responding to a Licensing Board Investigation
In most cases, the agency handling the complaint will notify you that it has received a complaint about you and request a written response early in the investigation process. The amount of time you have to respond to that complaint differs by agency. Your response to a complaint can mean the difference between having the agency dismiss your complaint at an early stage and having the agency file formal disciplinary charges against you. Therefore, you should consult a license defense attorney for assistance in responding to a disciplinary complaint.
Some agency investigators will request to interview in person or conduct a site visit, depending on the nature of the complaint and your type of profession. But, again, you should never agree to an interview with an investigator without the presence of your licensing board defense lawyer. Remember, the goal of the licensing board is to protect the public and enforce its rules, not to protect you or your interests.
If you choose to participate in an agency investigation without legal counsel, you may inadvertently admit to violating the rules or law that the agency enforces or provide additional evidence to the investigator that does not benefit your case. While it is tempting to immediately explain your side of the story and defend yourself in response to a complaint, doing so can worsen your situation. Therefore, you should seek legal advice before contacting an agency investigator.
Outcomes of Agency Investigations
An agency investigation usually results in one of the three following outcomes:
- The agency dismisses the complaint for lack of evidence in support of the allegations,
- The agency pursues formal disciplinary charges based on evidence that supports a violation of a rule or law governing the licensed professional, or
- The agency refers the case back to the investigator for additional investigation or information to decide the disposition of the case.
If an agency dismisses a complaint, you will receive notice of the dismissal, and there will be no further action. On the other hand, if the agency opts to pursue formal disciplinary charges, you will receive notice of those charges and the next steps in your disciplinary case.
At that point, you will have an opportunity to be heard, usually in the context of an informal conference or meeting with agency representatives. Of course, legal representation at this stage of the process is critical, as you now face formal disciplinary proceedings. At this point, you could face the suspension or loss of your professional or occupational license, so the stakes are much higher than in the investigative stages of your case.
If you cannot resolve an ongoing disciplinary complaint informally, you typically have the right to be heard at a formal hearing. For many state agencies, this hearing takes place before an administrative law judge (ALJ) before the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). SOAH is an independent state agency that hears disciplinary proceedings from various state agencies and other administrative proceedings.
At an administrative hearing, you and the agency can present evidence, including documents and witness testimony, to support your respective positions. The ALJ will consider all the evidence and provide a proposal for decision (PFD) to the relevant licensing agency board. That board then has the option of accepting, rejecting, or amending the PFD and the responsibility of issuing the final disciplinary decision in the case.
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 with no way to support yourself or utilize the degree you have worked hard to earn. 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.