Embarking on a career as a licensed and/or certified substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor in New Jersey is an admirable pursuit. However, it is also a potentially vulnerable one. After you've dedicated years of your life to the study of helping people with their addictions and disorders, a single formal complaint or misconduct accusation can erase all your accomplishments. In New Jersey, both the Professional Counselors and Examiners Committee and the Alcohol and Drug Counselor Committee emphasize ethical and professional behavior from license and certification holders. As a result, any allegations of misconduct are taken very seriously and may lead to severe consequences, such as losing your license to practice.
If you are facing an investigation seeking experienced legal counsel to defend your professional license could very well save your career. A skilled license defense attorney will be well-versed in the process and can help safeguard your rights throughout the investigation. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his License Defense Team have extensive experience defending professionals against misconduct allegations, resulting in positive outcomes for their clients. If you are a New Jersey substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor with a jeopardized license, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.
What Types of Allegations Can Jeopardize My License and/or Certification?
All licensed and certified counselors in New Jersey must abide by strict standards of professional and ethical excellence. Most disciplinary actions, taken against counselors result from alleged violations of these standards and/or breaching the public trust. Examples of such violations include, but are not limited to:
- Substance abuse: Struggling with your own drug or alcohol addiction naturally disqualifies you from assisting others in this area.
- Sexual misconduct: Engaging in unethical romantic/sexual relationships with a client is the most common form of sexual misconduct and almost guarantees license loss. Other examples include sexual harassment, inappropriate touching of clients or colleagues, and unsolicited sexual advances.
- Dual relationships: Having additional relationships with clients beyond the counselor role (e.g., financial, familial) is considered unethical and could lead to license revocation.
- Fraud: Examples include overbilling or up-coding insurance, overcharging clients, and more.
- Record-keeping/confidentiality violations: Maintaining counselor-client confidentiality is crucial. Failing to protect confidential client information, whether intentional or not, can endanger your license.
- Acting beyond your qualifications: Your counseling license or certification allows you to operate within specific guidelines. Providing therapy or treatment outside these guidelines could result in license revocation.
What Does the Disciplinary Process Entail?
In New Jersey, most disciplinary actions against licensed substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors start with a complaint filed against the counselor with the committee or board that issued your license or certification. Complainants can include patients, colleagues, or other members of the public with grievances about your work. Once the complaint is filed, the disciplinary process proceeds as follows:
Request for Response
The Board will inform you about the complaint and request a written response. If your response is persuasive and supported by evidence, the Board may decide not to take further action. An experienced license defense attorney can help draft a compelling written response.
The Board will send the complaint to a Preliminary Evaluation Committee (PEC) for review. The PEC will appoint an investigator to determine if there is evidence supporting the claim, involving interviews with the complainant and witnesses, and requesting official documentation. In some cases, you may also need to testify under oath before the PEC.
If the Board finds sufficient evidence for disciplinary action, they might negotiate a consent order with you instead of holding a formal hearing. A consent order is a legally binding agreement in which you agree to follow the Board's disciplinary recommendations. While not suitable in every case, if there is strong evidence against you and the agreement allows you to retain or regain your license, it may be your best option.
If you and the Board cannot agree on a consent order, the case will proceed to a formal hearing. This hearing resembles a trial with both sides presenting evidence and arguing their case before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You may have an attorney with you during this hearing to present arguments and evidence on your behalf. If the ALJ concludes that the collected evidence is convincing, they will recommend disciplinary action to the Board. The Board has the authority to revoke your license and/or certification if they believe the disciplinary violation warrants it.
Why You Need a New Jersey Professional License Defense Attorney
The disciplinary process for licensed substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in New Jersey is lengthy and complex, without any guaranteed presumption of innocence. The licensing boards are responsible for protecting the public from harmful practitioners, and they possess extensive authority to administer discipline against licensees based only on a preponderance of the evidence. Without an attorney safeguarding your interests, you face the process at a significant disadvantage, and the likelihood of losing your license is much higher if you don't have an experienced attorney working for you.
By hiring an attorney with specific expertise in license defense, you gain an advocate who understands how to navigate the system and construct a robust defense on your behalf. They can help you comprehend the evidence against you and develop a response strategy that maximizes your chances of retaining your license. Your attorney can:
- Serve as your official legal representative in all interactions with the Board or the ALJ.
- Collect evidence and witnesses to support your case.
- Draft a persuasive written response to the complaint, which may conclude the disciplinary process immediately.
- Negotiate for the dismissal of the complaint or for lighter penalties that allow you to keep your license at various stages.
- Negotiate the best possible terms in a consent order.
- Vigorously defend you at a formal hearing, if necessary.
You have invested significant time and effort in building your career as a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor. Do not risk losing your livelihood by navigating the disciplinary process alone. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have assisted numerous licensed professionals in your situation, and they will apply their knowledge and experience to ensure the best chance of a favorable outcome. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use our online form.