Participate In Your Professional License Defense

Occasionally my daily review of Commonwealth Court decisions discussing professional licensing board cases reveal remarkable decisions. This happened again this week. I came across a decision discussing a professional who chose to represent himself. Unfortunately, the individual had no comprehension the legal mess he was creating for himself by not employing an attorney.

Stubbornness and disgust towards the regulatory process of a licensing disciplinary action creates a blindness in unrepresented parties. These professionals almost always fail in their both legal obligations to comply with the professional licensing board procedures and hearing regulations while representing of themselves at these hearing. This weeks case is another example of this unfortunate circumstance.

Dr. Mohammed Ali Hammad received notice of an investigation and a request to inspect his medical office. The notice required Dr. Hammad to allow a Veterinarian Board professional conduct investigator to visit his office to conduct a visual inspection of medical records and office administration. Dr. Hammad refused unless he was given a copy of the formal complaint and the name of the patient who initiated the investigation. This is not permitted. All complaints are confidential in the investigatory stage. While the investigator may read the complaint, a formal copy of the complaint and the name of the complainant is not disclosed.

Each licensing scheme has similar investigatory authority requiring licensees to allow, without subpoena or formal court process, an inspection and copying of medical or other business records. Each professional board’s regulations have long established their authority to conduct investigations of their licensees through a board investigator. The investigator closed the file and notified the legal prosecution department of Dr. Hammad’s refusal to allow the office investigation consistent with the Veterinary Board rules and procedures.

The failure to comply with the basic investigation requests creates a separate cause for discipline distinct from the underlying basis of the investigation. Dr. Hammad’s refusal to allow the inspection or produce medical records escalated the cause of his eventual discipline. This case discusses the discipline against Dr. Hammad’s solely for this stupid refusal to comply with the investigation.

In a prior 2013 disciplinary petition for some insignificant issue Dr. Hammad did file an answer to the case, object to the delegation of the case to a hearing examiner, and request a formal board hearing. However, Dr. Hammad did not appear at the prior board hearing. The state proceeded with that prior discipline case without him. There the hearing examiner proposed order and adjudication found Dr. Hammad violated Veterinary Board rules. That proposed adjudication immediately suspended Dr. Hammad’s Veterinary license. The board excepted the proposed adjudication, entered a final order, to which Dr. Hammond did not appeal.

Dr. Hammond nonetheless continued to practice veterinary medicine. This case then arose when an investigatory contacted him to conduct an office visit. Here, he was specifically cited for not allowing the inspection and for failing to honor the prior Veterinary Board order. Having failed to go to the hearing again, the discipline this time was not suspending, but revoking Dr. Hammad’s license to practice veterinary medicine and ordering him to pay a $20,000 civil penalty. This time the doctor appealed to the Commonwealth Court.

The appeals court had no patience for the doctor’s argument. Claims of due process violation’s fell on deaf years. The court cites long-standing procedures that notice of hearing prior to imposition of sanctions is the sole procedural due process required. Finding that Dr. Hammad received notice and “failed to appear to engage in the process he was due does not amount to an error in the process or to a violation of his rights. ”

Dr. Hammad’s objections to Veterinary Board process and authority to discipline are also summarily swept aside. Suggesting the Board did not have authority to fine him for wasting it’s time and investigatory expenses are quickly dispensed. The board did have pity on him and reduce the civil fine from $20,000 to $15,000. Nonetheless the appeals court strenuously affirms each and every licensing board’s authority to investigate, seek licensee compliance, and enforce their rules of discipline on their licensees.

This case is another example of how important it is to have an attorney at the inception of every single professional license investigation or disciplinary matter. Timely responding to petitions and requests for hearings are not enough. Licensees do not know the administrative rules and procedural safeguards to ensure protection of their professional license and therefore their livelihood. Difficult financial times do not give rise to wholesale abandonment of one’s license. Giving up should never be the ultimate decision in any case.

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