If you're a professional, your license is likely your most valuable possession. Whether you're a teacher, a cosmetologist, a doctor, or an engineer, a license lets your customers, clients, students, or patients know that you're both educated and trustworthy. Those are key credentials if you want to attract more business. More importantly, of course, you can't practice your profession if you don't have a license from the state.
Here's the thing: one complaint against you can put your license in jeopardy. If a customer, your supervisor, or a co-worker should report you to your North Dakota licensing board, you can face a lengthy investigation, a hearing, and serious sanctions. Your agency could put you on probation, suspend you, or even revoke your license entirely. And you can't know when a complaint might be coming. We all make mistakes, but sometimes you can wind up in trouble even when you've done absolutely nothing wrong.
How do you protect yourself and your license? Well, you start by doing your very best work every day. You take your job seriously, and you make sure you conduct both your personal and professional lives in a manner consistent with your position in your community. In all likelihood, you already do these things.
Sometimes, though, your best isn't enough to protect you. What do you do if, despite your best efforts, you still find yourself in trouble? You contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and his experienced Professional License Defense Team. They know the North Dakota licensing system, and they know the law. They've helped hundreds of professionals defend their licenses, and they can do the same for you.
The Disciplinary Process for Licensed Professionals in North Dakota
How you go about defending yourself from a complaint can vary depending on what particular type of license you hold. Virtually every industry has its own board—there are agencies that govern teachers, engineers, social workers, and geologists. Some professions even have a whole set of boards. For instance, in North Dakota, there are separate agencies for all the many specialties in the medical field:
- Physical Therapists
- Speech-language Pathologists
- Massage Therapists
If you find yourself accused of violating your professional responsibilities, you'll want to find out exactly how your particular board operates. However, in general, you can expect a four-part process
- Someone lodges a complaint
- The board undertakes an investigation
- You are issued a Letter of Concern or a Consent Order
- You're given the opportunity to defend yourself at a hearing
As mentioned earlier, complaints can originate from a variety of sources.
- Another practitioner
- A colleague
- An employee
- A patient or client
- An insurer
In addition, most licensing agencies conduct their own periodic inspections and can charge you with violating the standards of your license.
Finally, you should know that many boards also have rules against “unethical behavior,” and that includes trouble with the law. An arrest or indictment for a crime—federal, state, or local—is often enough to trigger an investigation into your fitness to continue in the profession. A DUI, for instance, or a domestic violence conviction can threaten your license. In these cases, it's usually a country clerk who actually lodges a complaint against you with your board, since they process criminal records.
Ultimately, though, it's the board itself that actually takes responsibility both for receiving complaints and responding to them.
A complaint is just that: a complaint. It doesn't mean you'll necessarily be subject to any disciplinary action. In fact, before it does anything else, your board must conduct a preliminary investigation of the complaint to decide if it is credible and actionable. After all, not every complaint is subject to your agency's jurisdiction. Simple fee disputes or complaints about rude behavior don't generally rise to the level of an official investigation.
If the agency does decide to pursue the complaint, though, it assigns an investigator or a committee to uncover the facts of the case. In all likelihood, your agency will provide you with a copy of the official complaint. This is an important document since it lets you know exactly what actions you're trying to defend. That can be crucial in developing a response.
The investigation itself may have a number of different components, depending both on your individual profession and the specifics of the complaint. Certainly, you can expect investigators will interview you about your side of the story. They'll likely interview any witnesses, including others at your workplace.
Even at this point, there's no guarantee that you will actually be charged with violating your license. Investigators file a report including their findings, and the board itself must decide whether or not it wants to pursue disciplinary action against you.
The time to seek legal assistance, though, isn't after an investigation when you're facing a serious sanction. Any investigation can lead to a finding against you. Even if you don't wind up charged, accusations and investigations can be stressful. Investigators dig into your personal and professional lives, and they tend to put the worst possible spin on what they find. An attorney can help limit the damage. Joseph D. Lento and his team can advise you on answering questions, make sure investigators take account of your evidence and your witnesses, and generally protect your rights throughout the process.
Consent Orders and Other Temporary Actions
Of course, your licensing board can take disciplinary action against you if it believes the complaint has merit. Typically, an agency issues either a private or public Letter of Concern, or Consent Order, explaining its findings and the specific sanction it has applied against you. Such letters help to reassure the community that the board takes complaints seriously and acts in the best interests of clients and patients.
Disciplinary action can include many different types of sanctions. The most common of these, though, are probation, suspension, or revocation of your license.
A Letter of Concern at this point generally indicates that you accept responsibility for your actions as well as the sanction the board has assigned. If, however, you believe you are innocent of the charges, or that the sanction is more severe than the charges warrant, you do have the right to defend yourself at a full hearing before any letters are issued.
It's not always easy to know whether you would be better off accepting the judgment against you or challenging the investigative findings. Here again, Joseph D. Lento and his Professional License Defense Team can play a crucial role in helping you understand the charges and decide on an appropriate response.
If you cannot reach an agreement with your licensing agency as to the Consent Order, you request a full hearing into the matter. A hearing offers you the chance to present your side of the case.
Hearings work much like trials, at least in their general outline. Both sides, for instance, get to offer up evidence and call witnesses. Both sides also get to cross-examine witnesses against them and raise questions about any physical evidence. And, just as in a trial, the board ultimately decides whether or not you are responsible for a violation and what, if any, sanction should be applied. In the case of a hearing, Consent Orders are usually published only after these final decisions have been made.
Most licensing boards grant you the right to legal representation if you're under investigation or facing a hearing. At a minimum, you can be accompanied to or prepared for proceedings by an attorney. Even if, for some reason, your board does not allow your lawyer at the proceedings, you certainly need to consult one before your hearing. Joseph D. Lento and his team can help you organize a strategy, gather your evidence, and come up with questions for witnesses. They give you your very best chance of successfully defending yourself.
Just What Can Joseph D. Lento and His Team Do For You?
The bottom line is that you simply can't afford to try and handle licensing issues yourself. Your license is your livelihood. Lose it, and you could find yourself looking for a new career. And just because you know you're innocent doesn't mean others will believe you.
It's no easy task taking on the bureaucracy of a licensing board. Just navigating the process can be confusing. In other words, you don't just need legal representation. You need the best legal representation you can find.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Professional License Defense Team are knowledgeable and experienced. They're fully prepared to represent you in all matters related to your case. What does that mean?
- They'll review the complaint against you and make sure you understand the charges. Then, they'll work with you to come up with a strategy to protect your license.
- They'll help you to prepare your case, including drafting necessary documents, tracking down evidence, and interviewing witnesses.
- They'll represent you as official legal counsel at any investigative meetings, helping you answer questions and ensuring investigators don't violate your due process rights.
- They can draft a response to the complaint itself. Often, this can help to minimize the damage, and occasionally it can get the case closed before it has even begun.
- They can negotiate with the board to drop the case.
- If you're found responsible for a license violation, they can negotiate for the best possible sanctions.
- They can represent you at hearings before the board, if those should become necessary.
Areas We Serve in North Dakota
The Lento Law Firm can represent you in licensure cases whether you live in the Western, Eastern, or Central part of North Dakota. Generally, they focus on individuals in the state's largest communities
- Western Area: Beulah, Bowman, Williston
- Eastern Area: Walhalla, Wahpeton, Fort Ransom
- Central Area: Minot, Washburn, Fargo
Allegations and Offenses that Could Jeopardize Your License
As mentioned, licensing boards and agencies aren't usually interested in simple fee disputes or behavioral complaints. Instead, they're concerned with violations of professional and ethical standards. You can expect, for instance, that most boards would investigate the following complaints.
- Issues of Fraud: Fees may not be under board jurisdiction, but fraud certainly is. Take kickbacks, up-code a patient's condition for insurance purposes, or file claims for services not actually rendered, and you can find yourself under investigation.
- Abuse or Gross Negligence: Most of the time a simple mistake or accident won't put your license in jeopardy. On the other hand, abusing a client or harming them through some act of negligence will.
- Sexual Misconduct: In our current political climate, unwanted sexual advances are virtually always severely punished. Even consensual relationship with patients, students, or clients can be off-limits.
- Inappropriate Handling of Materials: It's important that you treat medications, chemicals, and other hazardous materials carefully. Failing to do so can get you into serious trouble.
- Inaccurate Record Keeping: Likewise, as a licensed professional, you're probably expected to keep careful, accurate records.
- Substance Abuse/ Addiction: Many professionals—doctors, pilots, truck drivers, and attorneys—are expected to maintain high ethical principles in their personal as well as professional lives. Substance abuse and addiction issues can be grounds for revoking a license.
- Criminal Conviction: Most licensing boards also take criminal offenses seriously. These don't have to be related to you career. Any conviction can signal a lapse in judgment and result in stiff penalties.
What Can Joseph D. Lento and His Team Do For You?
Your license means everything to you. It gives you the right to practice your profession. It certifies that you are qualified and that you've demonstrated your abilities. It serves to let potential clients, patients, and customers know that you can be trusted. If that license is being threatened in any way, you can't afford to take chances. You absolutely must do everything you can to defend yourself, and that starts with hiring the best legal representation you can.
Joseph D. Lento and his experienced Professional License Defense Team understand your situation. They've helped hundreds of other professionals through similar situations. They know the law. They've studied it, and they keep up with how it continues to grow and evolve. And they know the licensing system in North Dakota. They know who to talk to and what to say to get you the very best possible resolution to your case.