As a licensed professional in California, there is almost nothing more frustrating than learning that a complaint has been filed against you. Any complaint that is found to be valid upon investigation will result in an administrative hearing with the California Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), and potentially in discipline against your license.
Before you panic, know that there are steps you can take that will increase the likelihood of being able to keep your license. Here is how to approach the administrative hearing process and how a licensing attorney can help.
What Happens After an Accusation?
If a complaint against you is worrisome to your licensing board, they will start by investigating. They must do this to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to warrant the complaint and to decide whether to take the claim to court. If the board finds that there is enough evidence for the complaint to be heard in court, there will be a filing of an administrative action, called an Accusation.
You have just 15 days to file a Notice of Defense from the date on which the Accusation is sent to you. This is a very SHORT period and your failure to file a Notice of Defense will result in the revocation of your license. Whether you want to try to settle with the board or want to go to the administrative hearing, as discussed here, you have to file the Notice of Defense. It secures your right to participate in the case and to avoid a Default Decision and Order.
In short, if a complaint has been filed against you, the best thing to do is to start taking steps to secure legal help in the event your case goes to court. The process of finding a lawyer can be stressful and time-consuming, so knowing you have found a licensing attorney you can rely on will provide you with a great deal of solace.
What Happens at an Administrative Hearing
It is an unfortunate reality that the Administrative Hearing process can be somewhat drawn out. These hearings are also often more stressful and formal than most people expect, especially if they choose to handle their case without a lawyer. For one, an Administrative Hearing works a lot like a trial, with an Administrative Law Judge presiding. These judges are experienced attorneys, and as with any other trial, will conduct in-depth conferences and issue orders prior to the hearing.
During the hearing itself, they will serve as judges as well as jury, determining on their own whether or not you have violated the law and making recommendations for the final decision to the board. During the hearing, your attorney can present evidence and other supporting information that points to your innocence. Witnesses will also be called to testify on your behalf. It is best to avoid enduring this experience on your own, as without a licensing attorney in place, it can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of courtroom proceedings and to understand how to defend yourself. And, don’t forget, the board is represented by an attorney.
When Will I Know the Decision?
After the hearing concludes, the judge will carefully consider all the facts, information, and evidence presented. After this, they will produce a written decision. This typically happens within 30 days of the initial hearing. After the judge has made their decision, the fate of your license is in the hands of your professional licensing board. In some cases, they may choose to accept the decision and the judge’s recommendations. In others, they may decide to deny the decision. Either way, they have 100 days in which to do this. With such potentially extensive timelines, administrative hearings can feel especially long and grueling.
Once you receive the decision, you can file a petition for reconsideration. You can only file this petition up and until the effective date of the decision. You can also appeal it to the Superior Court. You have a very short time to file the appeal, and it is a detailed process. You should consult an attorney about either a petition for reconsideration or an appeal. Unfortunately, once the board makes a decision, it rarely changes a decision.
If you don’t appeal, or your appeal is unsuccessful, and you have been placed on probation, you should work with an attorney to identify if, when and how you can petition to terminate or modify your probation. If your license is revoked, you should take the steps to work with an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the process of getting your license reinstated as quickly as possible.
If at any point in this process you are in need of an experienced licensing attorney, Scott J Harris can help. He has years of experience fighting for the rights of California professionals, and he will fight for yours too. Even if you are unsure whether or not a lawyer can help, it is worth contacting SJ Harris for a free consultation of your case.