When you're a licensed professional in New Jersey, you are taking on a role that involves public trust—which is why the state's licensing boards hold its licensees to high standards of ethics and excellence. You've paid a significant price to establish your career as a licensed physician, nurse, physician assistant, anesthesiologist, dentist, or another profession in New Jersey. But because so much rests on your license, all it may take is a single allegation of misconduct to put your career in jeopardy. Whether the complaint against you stems from a mishap, a lapse in judgment, a personal issue, or an outright false accusation, you now have to demonstrate to your licensing board that you still deserve the public's trust. If you fail to do so, you could lose your license, and by extension, your career.
Professional License Defense Attorney in New Jersey
Whether you've been accused of gross negligence, fraud, sexual misconduct, or any other sort of professional code of conduct violation, it's critical to take action now to safeguard your rights and your future. The first stage is to talk with a skilled professional license defense attorney who can defend you before the board and assist you in navigating the disciplinary process. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a New Jersey professional license defense attorney who represents healthcare professionals and other licensed professionals who are facing possible disciplinary action against their license. Involving an attorney in the process as soon as possible could save your license and your career. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your options.
The Disciplinary Process for Licensed Professionals in New Jersey
When you're accused of wrongdoing or misconduct, the body that granted your license will also oversee the investigation and disciplinary process. Although each licensing board has specific rules for disciplinary inquiries, the process is generally similar across the state. Here's a summary of the procedure for New Jersey's disciplinary procedures for licensed medical professionals and others.
Disciplinary proceedings are almost always initiated by a formal complaint made against you to your state licensing board. Almost any source can file a complaint against you, including but not limited to:
- Insurers (in cases of suspected insurance fraud)
- Other practitioners/colleagues
- Healthcare entities
- Court clerks (i.e., reporting a recent criminal conviction to your licensing board)
Notification/request for response
The board's first step after receiving a complaint is to notify you in writing and to request a written response from you. This is your first opportunity to tell your side of the story. If you provide a satisfactory written explanation of what happened in detail, along with any supporting evidence, that may be sufficient to convince the board to dismiss the complaint without further action. A skilled license defense lawyer can help you write a compelling response.
If the board decides to move forward after receiving your response (or if you do not respond), they will next launch a comprehensive investigation into the complaint to see if it has merit. The board may decide to form a Preliminary Evaluation Committee (PEC) to monitor the process and appoint an investigator to do the legwork. A formal investigation will most likely include interviews with you and any relevant persons (including the individual who brought forth the complaint against you), as well as subpoenas for relevant records and documentation, among other fact-finding procedures. The board may also request that you appear before the PEC to answer questions under oath.
As an alternative to holding a formal hearing before a judge, the board may try to negotiate a consent order with you if they find enough evidence to verify the complaint. A consent order is a legally binding agreement between you and the state in which you effectively admit to wrongdoing and voluntarily submit to a set of prescribed remedies, which may include suspension of your license, mandatory classes, treatment for substance abuse (if necessary), and other demands. A consent order is not always the best resolution (consult with an attorney before signing one), but when it's properly negotiated, a consent order may result in lesser penalties and a pathway to reinstatement of your license.
Formal complaint and hearing
If a settlement isn't reached, your licensing board will submit a formal complaint to the state, at which time you'll be required to attend a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. At the hearing, you will be given an opportunity to respond to the board's evidence against you, and the board will present its case. You have the option of hiring an attorney to represent you at the hearing. By the time your case reaches the hearing stage, you're at a disadvantage because the board has a low burden of proof. The judge may find against you based only on the "preponderance of the evidence standard," which means the board only has to demonstrate a 51 percent likelihood that you committed wrongdoing. The court will issue a decision based on the facts and legal standards presented during the hearing, as well as recommendations for disciplinary actions ranging from a formal reprimand to a full suspension or termination of your license.
Why You Should Hire an Attorney for License Discipline Matters
At any time up to the hearing, the licensing board may elect not to impose punishment based on the facts, your response to the complaint, and your level of cooperation. However, a complaint against your license is still a legal matter because your license is a legal agreement with the state. Licensed healthcare and other professionals who represent themselves in license defense matters usually receive a worse outcome than if they had an attorney helping them. Early involvement of an attorney allows you to make your case in a more organized and compelling way, enhancing the likelihood that the board will either dismiss the complaint entirely or be open to negotiation.
A skilled New Jersey license defense lawyer can assist you in any/all of the following ways:
- Examine the complaint against you and gather evidence and witnesses to refute it
- Act as your official legal representative in all contacts with the board or in court
- Draft a convincing initial written response to the complaint to improve your chances of having the complaint dismissed
- Negotiate with the board to dismiss the complaint, avoid disciplinary action, or agree to lesser penalties
- Negotiate favorable terms for a consent order
- Defend you in a formal hearing, if necessary
Areas in New Jersey We Serve
The Lento Law firm can provide professional license defense services to doctors, nurses, dentists, other healthcare professionals, and other licensed workers in every community of New Jersey. However, most of our clients live in the more populated areas and healthcare centers across the state, including (but not limited to):
Located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the populous Camden/Cherry Hill area comprises part of Philadelphia's eastern suburbs, with Camden County hosting a combined population of nearly a quarter-million people. This area includes numerous boroughs and municipalities, including Collingswood, Haddon Township, Audubon, Gloucester City, and others. Main healthcare systems in this area include Virtua, Cooper University Health Care, and CAMCare.
By far the most populous area of New Jersey, the northeastern section of New Jersey is part of the New York Metropolitan area (i.e., the NYC suburbs). Newark itself is the largest single city in New Jersey with a population of more than 300,000--but this metropolitan area actually encompasses six of the largest cities in New Jersey: Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, and Lakewood. The combined population of the cities and towns along the Hudson and points south and west total more than 4 million people. Health care systems and hospitals throughout this region include Prime Healthcare (including St. Mary's General and St. Michaels), Robert Wood Johnson University Health System, Hackensack Meridian Health, Atlantic Health, and others.
Home to about 83,000 people, Trenton is the state capital of New Jersey and, therefore, also serves as the primary location for the state's licensing boards. Trenton sits opposite Bucks County, PA, along the eastern banks of the Delaware River. Main hospitals and health care hubs in this area include St. Francis Medical Center, Capital Health Regional, and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton.
Offenses or Allegations that Could Put Your Professional License in Jeopardy
Health care and other licensed professions rely on public trust, which is why the State of New Jersey regulates them to high professional and ethical standards. The majority of allegations that might result in the loss of your professional license have to do with a breach of either the state's professional codes of conduct or public trust. The following are some of the most common allegations that can result in disciplinary action:
Healthcare fraud encompasses a wide range of actions. Some examples include:
- Overbilling of patients or insurance
- Billing for services not rendered
- Upcoding procedures that use incorrect insurance codes to generate more money
- Falsifying patient diagnoses for insurance reasons
- Billing the patient or insurance for services not performed
- Operating outside the scope of your license (i.e., performing services you're not qualified to perform)
- Accepting kickbacks for referrals
- False advertising
Gross negligence or abuse
This broad category includes any type of abuse or neglect that jeopardizes a patient or client's safety, health, or well-being. Examples include:
- Physical abuse (e.g., hitting, sexual assault)
- Emotional abuse (e.g., verbally berating or threatening a patient)
- Violating patient/client confidentiality
- Medical errors (e.g., prescription errors, performing unnecessary procedures)
Sexual misconduct/inappropriate relationships
It is highly unethical for physicians and other health care professionals to have a romantic or sexual relationship with a patient, for example. There are several types of sexual misconduct, including unwanted sexual advances (towards patients or coworkers), sexual harassment, and sexual assault. Such behaviors almost always result in the revocation of one's license.
Inappropriate dispensation/handling of medicine
If you're accused of prescribing or dispensing medications irresponsibly or outside the scope of your license, you could be severely penalized. You may get sanctioned for incorrect inventory/tracking, stealing medicines for personal use, and other infractions.
Keeping inaccurate or sloppy records
In the healthcare field, accurate and thorough documentation is critical to patient safety. If you're accused of keeping sloppy or incomplete patient records, or fabricating records for any reason, your license may be at risk.
Your professional license could be at risk if you use illegal drugs, misuse prescription medications, or drink excessively. The reason is that in the eyes of the licensing boards, substance abuse can impair your judgment and jeopardize your ability to serve patients or clients safely. In the medical profession, especially, any coworker who suspects you of substance abuse has an ethical obligation to inform the board.
Being convicted of certain crimes can put your license at risk, especially if you are convicted of DWI, crimes of moral turpitude, or crimes related to your profession. If your licensing board is notified of your criminal conviction by the courts, it could trigger an automatic temporary suspension of your license pending an investigation.
Professional License Defense For Licensed Professionals In New Jersey
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is well-versed in representing licensed professionals who might be subject to disciplinary action in New Jersey. We can help you if you're licensed to practice in any of these capacities:
- Physician assistant
- Mental health professional
- Physical therapist
- Real estate agent
- K-12 educator
- Insurance agent
- Other licensed professions
A license suspension or revocation can have devastating consequences for your career. That's why it is critical to have a legal professional on your side who understands the system and will fight for your rights. The sooner you involve an attorney, the better your chances for a positive outcome. However, Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help you at any stage or phase of the license disciplinary process. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.