It's your passion for promoting healthy eyesight that caused you to invest so much time and effort into becoming an optometrist. After 8-plus years of schooling, grueling exams, and qualifying for state licensure, you've finally built a solid career as a licensed optometrist in New Jersey. To think that a single allegation of misconduct could derail everything you've worked for—it's practically unthinkable.
And yet, it happens more often than you think. The New Jersey State Board of Optometrists holds its licensees to high standards of ethical and professional excellence, and all it takes to trigger an investigation into your license is a single complaint. The Board takes its commitment to public safety seriously, and it can suspend or revoke your license based only on a preponderance of the evidence. Without a license, your career is flatlined.
There's no need to panic, however. With the help of a knowledgeable and experienced professional license defense attorney, you can protect your livelihood from an unjust accusation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience in dealing with disciplinary cases such as yours, and he and his team will work diligently to help you attain the best possible outcome for your case. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.
What Allegations Could Put Your Optometrist License in Jeopardy?
The State Board of Optometry enforces stringent standards of ethics and professional conduct for its licensees. In most cases, allegations that may put an optometrist's license in jeopardy involve a breach of these values. Common examples include:
- Sexual misconduct/inappropriate relationships. Allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or unwanted sexual advances toward patients or colleagues could be grounds for losing your license. Additionally, forming a romantic relationship with a patient you're treating is considered a serious ethical violation and could also cost you your license.
- Insurance fraud. Fraudulent activities range from billing for services not provided to "upcoding" insurance claims, falsifying patient records, etc.
- Medication violations. Examples include diverting medications for personal use, prescribing medication without a valid medical reason, operating so-called "pill mills," etc.
- Substance abuse. Being accused of drug or alcohol abuse can call into question your competence in treating patients and may result in either mandated treatment or loss of license.
- Criminal convictions. If you are convicted of certain offenses, particularly crimes of moral turpitude or those related to your duties as an optometrist, you may be disqualified from holding an optometrist license in New Jersey.
What Does the Disciplinary Process Look Like for Optometrists in New Jersey?
Most disciplinary actions against licensed professionals begin with a formal complaint filed with the appropriate licensing Board. In New Jersey, anyone can file a complaint with the State Board of Optometrists. Most complaints against optometrists come from patients, former patients, colleagues, insurance companies, etc.
Once the Board has received a complaint against you, the process goes through a specific set of stages as follows.
Request for Response
The Board's first action upon receiving a complaint is to send you a formal notice of the complaint and ask you to respond to the complaint in writing. This is your first opportunity to tell your side of the story and set the record straight. If you can provide a convincing response backed by corroborating evidence that exonerates you, the Board will likely drop the matter. A good license defense attorney can help you draft a compelling written response.
If you don't send a written response (or if the Board is not convinced by your response), the Board will appoint a Preliminary Evaluation Committee (PEC) to investigate the complaint. The PEC typically assigns an investigator to seek out evidence to support the complaint. This process may involve interviewing the complainant and any witnesses, issuing document subpoenas, and possibly requesting you to testify under oath.
In the event that the probe yields sufficient proof for potential disciplinary action, the Board may propose to negotiate a consent order with you in lieu of a formal hearing. This is a legally binding agreement in which you submit voluntarily to the Board's recommended penalties. If you can provide compelling evidence to refute the complaint against you, your attorney may advise against signing a consent order. However, if disciplinary action seems inevitable, it may be the most viable resolution. A good attorney can often negotiate for lenient penalties within the consent order or at least make sure the order includes terms for reinstatement of your optometrist license.
If you are required to attend a formal hearing, ensure that you have legal representation with you. During the hearing, both sides will get the opportunity to make their case and provide any necessary evidence or documents. At this stage, an Administrative Law Judge will determine what disciplinary action should be taken and submit his/her recommendation to the Board. Penalties can range from a formal reprimand and/or fines to full revocation of your license.
Why Do I Need an Attorney?
When your license is under investigation, it may be easy to presume you can resolve the matter simply by "explaining yourself" to the Board. In reality, the Board takes allegations of misconduct very seriously, and there is no guaranteed presumption of innocence. If the Board's investigation leads them to believe that you more likely than not committed the violation, they have the authority to impose disciplinary action, including stripping you of your license. You're effectively placed on the defensive from the moment someone files a complaint.
This is why it pays to have an experienced license defense attorney on your side throughout the disciplinary process. An attorney can help you assess the charges against you, build a strong response, negotiate directly with the Board for dismissal of the complaint or minimized penalties, and represent you at a formal hearing if necessary. (In many cases, a good license defense attorney can resolve your complaint well before a hearing is even called.) In short, your odds of keeping your optometrist license are much higher when you have the right attorney representing you and protecting your rights.
You've worked too hard to build your career to allow an unfair accusation put it at risk. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will fight on your behalf to get you a favorable outcome and save your livelihood. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.