The Investigatory and Adjudication Process

Know the Steps

To successfully defend a proceeding against your professional license, you need to know the steps in the process. You need to know the steps in the process because you and your skilled professional license defense attorney are the key participants in the process. You need to prepare for each step in the process, and you need to do the right things and make the right decisions at each step along the way. You cannot ignore a license proceeding without risking license suspension or worse. You must give your license defense its due attention. And to give due attention, you need to know the steps in the process. Premier professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has the procedural knowledge, skill, and command to defend you aggressively. But you still need to know what's happening and what's next so that you can devote the necessary time and resources.

Common Procedures

State licensing boards, or the discipline boards of professional associations that state law authorizes, publish license discipline procedures. License discipline cases follow administrative, not formal court, procedures. Administrative procedures may have court-like features, such as live testimony under oath and cross-examination at the hearing. But they can also have informal or less formal procedures, such as a simple exchange of documentation rather than formal discovery. Administrative procedures can also vary from profession to profession and state to state. But generally, license discipline procedures must provide the affected professional with due process. Due process requires fair notice and a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal, meaning that all proceedings will have some standard features. Know the following general steps, additional detail as to which you can find in the breakout pages. Expect, too, to adjust to your profession's specific procedural rules.

The Pre-Accusation Stage

You may have a chance to forestall a license proceeding, even before it begins. Professionals who face a license proceeding can often see it coming. A patient or client may have complained to the professional with some allegation of neglect or mistreatment. Or a colleague may have told the professional that the colleague believes the professional committed a violation that the rules require the colleague to report. When a professional realizes that a complaint is coming, the professional may feel helpless in such a situation. But this pre-accusation stage can actually be a great time to act, whether to convince the complainant that the professional committed no wrong or to preserve exonerating or mitigating evidence. The steps to take may not be evident to the professional, but premier professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento knows the right actions.

The Review Stage

Discipline officials can learn of suspected professional misconduct from several sources. Media reports are one source. Other professionals are another source for information on alleged misconduct. Professionals typically have the duty to report colleagues whose conduct suggests substantial unfitness to continue in practice. But patients, clients, or others whom the professional's conduct directly affects are a common source for suspected misconduct reports. Yet patients and clients may not know what constitutes misconduct or may simply be wrong about the facts. When discipline officials receive such reports, they will review the information to see whether it supports that a rule violation may have occurred. If not, then the discipline officials may dismiss the allegations, in some professions without even notifying the professional. If the information does suggest a rule violation, then the discipline officials proceed to the complaint stage.

The Complaint Stage

License proceedings officially begin with the entry of a complaint. The patient, client, or other person who reports the alleged misconduct to the disciplinary officials supplies the allegations, often in letters, emails, or other writing. However, grievance officials who know the rules generally draft the complaint or other document specifying the alleged violations. Although the titles and bodies vary from profession to profession and state to state, the grievance official generally serves as a prosecutor before an impartial discipline board. The grievance official or discipline board will generally serve the complaint and any supporting documentation on the defending professional. Many professionals will have heard of the impending complaint. Service of the complaint may take other professionals by complete surprise. Service of the complaint is a big step in any license proceeding because the grievance officials believe the claim has enough merit to proceed. Retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to help you review and evaluate any license complaint.

The Response Stage

The professional will then likely have an obligation to answer the complaint in writing promptly. Failure to answer a complaint may constitute a default, establishing the complaint's allegations as true. It may also constitute another rule violation. Typically, the professional's answer must include a true and complete disclosure of relevant information. Professionals generally have no privilege against self-incrimination in license proceedings. A professional who faces related criminal charges may properly refuse to answer a licensing complaint, but the refusal can result in license sanctions. Skilled attorney representation is absolutely critical at the response stage. You need to know whether to respond, when to respond, and how to respond so that your response is truthful and complete. A thorough answer can result in the dismissal of all license charges.

The Interim Suspension Order

Professions often reserve the right to suspend a professional license immediately on receipt of the complaining witness's information, before serving the complaint, and before any answer or hearing, when the complaint's allegations indicate that the professional is a danger to the public. An interim suspension order temporarily removes the professional's right to practice. An interim suspension order means that you could lose your professional practice without even knowing the charges against you before you had an opportunity to contest those charges. Due process, though, generally requires that the discipline officials allow the professional an opportunity to argue for the license's restoration before the final hearing, which may be weeks or months away. Skilled attorney representation at this stage is critical if the professional is to restore the suspended license before a final hearing that may be weeks or months away.

The Investigation Stage

Just because a complainant alleges a violation doesn't mean a violation occurred. Grievance officials will investigate misconduct allegations. They typically do so first by requiring the defending professional to produce all files and other evidence. Grievance officials may also interview witnesses or, if the rules allow, subpoena them to testify at a deposition under oath. Those witnesses may include the defending professional, the complaining witness, and others familiar with the circumstances of the charge. Grievance officials will also gather and analyze documentary evidence. With the skilled attorney representative's help, the defending professional will also investigate, especially to discover or confirm exonerating evidence.

The Pre-Hearing Stage

Once the investigation ends, the two sides and the impartial discipline board will communicate in a pre-hearing stage. The pre-hearing stage may resolve legal or procedural issues, including setting a hearing time, place, and date. The pre-hearing stage is also an ideal time to negotiate compromise relief. Grievance officials often know when they have a weak case. The professional's skilled attorney representative can advocate to show them so. Experienced attorney representation significantly increases the likelihood of a dismissal or settlement of charges.

The Hearing Stage

If the license proceeding is not resolved by dismissal or agreement, it proceeds to the hearing stage. Both sides present evidence to the hearing officer or panel at the hearing while challenging the other side's evidence. Disciplinary hearings, although administrative in nature, are typically the most trial-like stage of a license proceeding. The hearing officer or panel may impose some evidence rules but relax other evidence rules. Witnesses, though, generally give sworn testimony under cross-examination. The hearing unquestionably requires the skill of a trial advocate familiar with administrative license proceedings.

The Decision Stage

Hearings generally result in a written decision that will include not only whether violations occurred and, if so, what those violations were and the penalties for any violation. If a violation occurred, the hearing officer or panel may consider mitigating evidence. Be sure to provide your skilled attorney representative with mitigating evidence for use at the hearing. If the hearing officer or panel finds misconduct, then license suspension is a common penalty. But penalties can range from a reprimand to probation, restitution, costs of the proceeding, license suspension, up to license revocation. Your skilled attorney representative can help you analyze the decision for its soundness, fairness, and impact.

The Appeal Stage

After the hearing, professionals who receive an adverse decision usually have a right to appeal the decision to another official. An appeal is not a second bite at the proverbial apple. An appeal official can generally not reverse the hearing officer or panel decision simply because the appeal official disagrees with the decision. Appeals of administrative decisions must generally show a special ground for appeal. Those grounds can include circumstances such as the decision exceeding the hearing officer or panel's authority or evident bias or conflicts of interest. Administrative appeals take special attorney skills. They require skill in assembling and examining the appellate record and identifying and briefing the appealable issues.

Reinstatement

When a hearing officer or panel imposes license suspension or revocation, the profession's rules may provide for reinstatement. If you suffer license suspension or revocation, then you may want your license back. Typically, reinstatement requires more than just waiting for the suspension to run its course. The discipline decision may have imposed other conditions for the suspended professional to satisfy. Just as likely, the rules themselves may require the professional to apply for reinstatement, at which point the professional must once again show good character and fitness for professional licensure. That proof may require showing evidence of rehabilitated character and recovered fitness. Reinstatement is a great opportunity but comes with a burden. Retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to help you get your license back.

License Application and Renewal

Professionals who have faced license proceedings may also face issues when applying for a license in another state or another profession or renewing a current license. Old license issues can resurface on new license applications or renewals, especially if the former proceeding ended with questions still up in the air. You must generally report prior license proceedings when applying for a new or renewed license. Even if you don't have to report, licensing officials may search databases to discover any prior proceeding. That's another reason to retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento to help you with your license proceeding, to ensure that you put to rest every such issue that could come back to haunt you. You may also need skilled legal representation when applying for a license or renewing a license if you had a prior license proceeding.

Premier Professional License Defense Attorney

Professionals may have substantive knowledge within their field. But they often lack the procedural knowledge necessary to an effective defense in an administrative license proceeding. Many attorneys, even trial lawyers, lack the experience and expertise to navigate the distinct administrative procedures of professional discipline proceedings. With all you have at stake, you need premier national professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento. Attorney Lento is himself a hardworking professional. He not only knows what you face and how to navigate those steps effectively. He also has the aggressive stance, high commitment, and abundant experience in professional license proceedings to raise your best defense.

Your investment in your professional license and career deserves the skilled service of an attorney who has successfully defended the licenses of many high-ranking and dedicated professionals. Attorney Lento has represented physicians, nurses, lawyers, accountants, engineers, hardworking tradespeople, and professionals in many other fields. Retain professional license defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your license defense. Call 888.535.3686 now or use the online service.

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