If you are a doctor, an attorney, or any other highly trained professional, you can't afford to have your professional license suspended. You've probably spent many years in school and attending internships to get where you are today. You devoted significant time and resources to obtain your degree. You passed the most difficult exams to get your license. Your license is invaluable and worth defending. When your professional license is at stake, the professional reputation that you have built over time will also be at stake. When your professional license is on the line, you need an experienced attorney to guide you through the defense process. You should go for an attorney with a specific license in handling license matters.

Here’s a look at ways of defending your professional license. 

Don't Respond to the State Bar Alone

You shouldn't make the mistake of responding to the state bar alone without the assistance of an attorney. Many professionals make this mistake too many times. You might end up creating more problems with your response than what you faced initially. You need the guidance of an attorney who has helped other professionals to avoid inequitable and arbitrary sanctions. With the proper legal advice, you can keep your license and re-establish your career.

When you receive a letter from the State bar, do not make the mistake of responding without an attorney's counsel. An attorney will help you provide the relevant information and documentation. An attorney will also ensure that you comply with the State bar's investigation but not to the point of compromising your legal rights.

You will have a limited opportunity to seek an Early Neutral Evaluation when the State Bar issues a notice of intent to file charges. You need someone to help you navigate the intricate procedures and specialized rules of the State Bar proceedings. Your attorney should understand:

  • Investigation procedures and methods
  • The rules of practice in a State bar court
  • The respondent attorney's legal rights during investigations
  • Disciplinary sanctions standards and reinstatement policy
  • The procedures for the determination of good moral character and admissions

Your choice of attorney will play a crucial role in helping you avoid excessive discipline and helping you retain your professional license. Here's what you should do to safeguard or defend your license.

File a Notice of Defense

You should file a notice of defense when you receive an accusation from your licensing agency. Submitting a notice of defense helps you to secure the right to defend yourself. Usually, you have to submit this notice within 15 days from when you receive the accusation. Ensure that you go through the documentation that accompanies the accusation and complies with all the instructions outlined if you have a hard time understanding the documents, consult an attorney.  You still have to file the notice of defense even if you wish to settle the issue with the agency without attending an administrative hearing. 

What happens if you fail to file a notice of defense?

Failing to file a notice of defense will result in a Default Decision or an order. These orders and decisions often lead to the loss or revocation of your professional license. It's always advisable to immediately file a Notice of Defense, even if you intend to hire an attorney.

You Aren't Entitled to an Attorney, But You Can Hire One

When an accusation is filed against your professional license, the situation is different from facing criminal charges. When facing criminal charges, you are entitled to an attorney, and the State will even hire an attorney for you if you can't afford one. While defending your license, you should hire an attorney. 

The Administrative Procedure Act governs professional licensing matters. The proceedings under the Administrative Procedure Act are different from the procedures under criminal law or civil law. Therefore, you need an attorney with vast experience in professional license defense. Your attorney should also understand administrative law and the different agencies that regulate different professionals. You should not forget that the licensing agency will have its attorney. The agency and its attorney are experienced experts who handle licensing issues often. You wouldn't want to respond to the agency without seeking legal counsel.

Facing the Accusations and Allegations Against You

The next step after filing a notice of defense is addressing the accusations and the allegations against you. Your attorney will start working with the attorney representing the licensing agency. Your attorney will first request discovery. This involves requesting the evidence and the investigative file that the licensing agency has to support the accusation against you. The licensing agency and its attorney are entitled to the evidence and witnesses you intend to present in your defense. Your attorney will help you formulate your defense. If you disagree with the accusation and the allegations brought against you, you have to gather evidence, and the allegations are false. Your attorney will also help you to gather evidence of mitigation and rehabilitation. You will have to refer to the agency materials to determine what constitutes positive rehabilitation and mitigation.

Ways of Resolving the Accusations

You can resolve an accusation in two ways: stipulated settlement or settlement. During a stipulated settlement, you will settle the issue between you and the licensing agency. The parties will come to a resolution of the case. The resolution may include a public reprimand, a dismissal, or surrender or outright revocation of your professional license. 

Many professional license issues are resolved through a disciplinary order. In this case, the license is placed on probation and will have to adhere to several probation terms and conditions. 

In some instances, the professional license issue can't be resolved through settlement. In this case, the license will proceed to an administrative hearing. An administrative hearing takes place before an administrative law judge. During the hearing, the attorney representing the licensing agency will present the case against you, including the testimonial and documentary evidence. You and your licensed defense attorney will also have an opportunity to present your case. It's essential to ensure that you understand all the laws and procedures that govern the administrative hearing.

How Long it Takes to Resolve a Licensing Issue

How long it takes to resolve a licensing issue will vary depending on the specific issue involved. Typically, after receiving an accusation, it will take between several months to slightly above one year to resolve the issue. If you resolve the issue through a settlement, you still have to present the case to the licensing agency's board for approval.

If the case proceeds to an administrative hearing, the judge will have up to 30 days to reveal the proposed decision. Your licensing agency will have another 100 days to accept or reject the decision that the administrative law judge proposes. Therefore, licensing cases take some time to resolve due to the many procedures involved. Even if you don't have to hire an attorney, you should know that the licensing agency and their attorney handle similar cases often.

Therefore, it will be your word against trained and highly experienced professionals if you choose to represent yourself. The aim of the licensing agency and their attorney is to discipline you or take away your license. The chances of defending your license successfully without the help of an experienced attorney are minimal. An attorney will answer all your questions and help clear all the doubts that you may have.

Criminal Convictions and Your Professional License

Past convictions can continue to haunt you and even make you lose your professional license. Maybe, you engaged in drunk driving or did something stupid involving drugs or narcotics. You might have engaged in a shoplifting spree with your friends. You may have made a mistake and committed a crime in the past, but you have since mended your ways, and you have everything under control. However, even if you have reformed, served your probation, or even had your case dismissed, your past conviction might still affect you. 

The licensing board might suspend or revoke your license if you were convicted of a crime that they believe could affect your fitness to do the job. You may receive an accusation informing you of a conviction-related discipline when you least expect it. If you don't currently have a professional license, you might receive a statement of issues when applying for one. You are entitled to an administrative hearing as outlined by the Administrative Procedure Act. An administrative hearing's role is to help strike a balance between your right to retain your license and the public's right to protection from dangerous professionals.

Most criminal convictions that affect licensing revolve around drug and alcohol abuse. If you commit such an offense, it's essential to get involved in an appropriate treatment or rehabilitation program. In addition to the benefits of treating, taking part in a treatment program will serve as mitigating evidence as you negotiate with the licensing board regarding your license. In a case involving drug abuse, you should be cautious before you decide to enter or plead a no-contest with a deferred entry of judgment commonly abbreviated as DEJ. 

The DEJ program may seem like an attractive resolution in a drug case. However, the licensing agencies consider it a conviction, which might trigger disciplinary action. A licensed professional who already has a license has a legal duty to self-report a criminal charge or specific tort actions against them. For example, all physicians in California should self-report all illegal actions to the medical board. What happens if a professional fails to self-report? 

The professional might receive a more severe discipline for failing to self-report. Whenever a licensed professional is convicted, the licensing board receives notifications from the courts. Therefore, you should be truthful and honest while disclosing your conviction because the licensing board will still find out, and you will face severe consequences. A proactive disclosure could prevent a discipline against you and could help mitigate the charges against you. 

Whenever you are renewing or applying for licensing, the licensing agency will inquire about your criminal conviction. You have to disclose all the criminal convictions, even the expunged convictions. According to California's expungement law, you must reveal an expunged conviction during a license application. Failing to disclose the conviction no matter how minor it is could lead to license denial.

What to Expect During the Administrative Hearing

The administrative hearing is more of a min court trial. It revolves around opening and closing statements, presentation of evidence, and witness statements. These hearings take place in special courtrooms in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacraments, and San Diego. The administrative law judge, abbreviated as ALJ, presides over the hearings. This judge is independent of the licensing agency that is trying to revoke your professional license. The administrative law judge aims to ensure that you get a fair trial.

The Licensing Agency's Burden of Proof 

In an administrative hearing, the burden of proof, which is the measure by which the licensing agency must make its case, is less than in criminal cases. This is because, in an administrative hearing, less is at stake. After all, no one is going to jail. The licensing agency must prove through clear and convincing evidence that you don't deserve to hold your professional license. However, the burden of proof shifts to you in the case of a statement of issues. You will have to prove beyond doubt that you are fit and deserve the professional license in question.

A lot happens before the actual administrative hearing. Both parties gather all the necessary evidence during the pre-trial period.

During the hearing, you have the right to introduce relevant evidence. You also have a right to bring and examine witnesses as well as cross-examine the agency's witnesses. You have the legal right to testify on your behalf. If you choose not to testify, the licensing agency still has the right to call you and make you testify under cross-examination.

If you are facing disciplinary action due to your past criminal conviction, your attorney will help you to:

  • Prove that the past criminal conviction was for a crime that is not related to your profession
  • Your attorney will also help you prove that you have undergone adequate rehabilitation for the crime you committed in the past.

When the judge gives their decision, the licensing agency may agree or disagree with the decision. If the licensing agency disagrees with the judge's decision, they may issue a different disciplinary order.

Appealing When You Lose at the Hearing

What should you do if you go through the administrative hearing but do not prevail at the hearing? Perhaps you even requested a reconsideration of the licensing authority's order without success. There's something else that you can try. You may file a petition and ask the Supreme Court to review or reverse the licensing authority's order. The Supreme Court will review the case to ensure that you received a fair hearing. The judge will also consider your case to ensure that the licensing authority did not abuse or misuse its discretion. The licensing agency may abuse its discretion by failing to follow the law, making findings without the relevant supporting evidence, or issuing orders unsupported by findings.

Civil Convictions and Your Professional License

You might be surprised to learn that just like criminal convictions, civil convictions could also impact your professional license. Lawsuits or arbitrations alleging fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of funds could affect your ability to get a license.

Don't Panic 

In the face of a criminal conviction that could affect your professional license, it's normal to panic and feel confused. However, you shouldn't panic because everything is not over with. You can employ several defenses to minimize the conviction’s impact on your professional license or make the case go away. You can choose to represent yourself, but you have a higher chance of prevailing when you hire an attorney. 

Whether you choose to represent yourself or hire an attorney, you have to make certain decisions and ensure that you comply with all the set deadlines. You have to inform the licensing board within 15 days of receiving the accusation for you to reserve a right to a hearing. The licensing board might make a default decision to revoke your license if you fail to respond by ignoring the accusation. 

You will feel more confident while working with an attorney. An attorney will represent you during all hearings and persuade the judge to see things in your favor. Through an attorney, you will see the big picture instead of focusing solely on your license suspension. An attorney will help you assess different defense strategies, including how they will work in your favor. 

Find a Professional License Defence Attorney Near Me

If you are a licensed professional, like a teacher, doctor, or accountant, your livelihood and professional license might be in jeopardy when you sustain certain types of criminal convictions. You face the risk of license suspension or revocation if you do not have a clean record. The good news is that you have some legal rights that prevent the licensing board from revoking your license without allowing you to attend a hearing. You should contact an attorney immediately you realize that the licensing board is investigating you. Ensure that you choose an attorney with experience in helping and defending professionals and preventing them from losing their licenses. If you need an attorney to help you understand your legal rights and defend your professional license in Long Beach, CA, you can count on The Legal Guardian. Contact us at 888-293-0396 and speak to one of our attorneys.