A Drug Act Conviction – An Automatic License Suspension – Not Revocation – with A Right of Reinstatement.

Pennsylvania’s Nursing Law has existed since 1951.  Between 1951 and May 1985 the Nursing Law did not include a provision automatically suspending a license upon conviction of a Controlled Substance Act felony.  In 1985, the Legislature revised the statute by adding Section 16.1 which states:

A license issued under this act shall automatically be suspended upon . . . conviction of a felony under the [Controlled Substance Act] . . .. As used in this section the term “conviction” shall include a judgment, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere. . . . Restoration of such license shall be made as in the case of revocation or suspension of such license.

McGrath v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, No. 5 WAP 2017, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 3109, at *12-13 (Nov. 22, 2017).  Once issued, nursing licenses may be suspended or revoked by the Board. As set forth in Section 14 of the Law, the Board may suspend or revoke a license if it makes certain findings. See 63 P.S. § 224(a), (b)(3). Additionally, the Board may refuse to issue an initial license for these same reasons.

McGrath’s nursing license was automatically suspended – not revoked – when she was convicted of violating the Drug Act (it seems a felony).  McGrath petitioned for reinstatement of her nursing sometime shorter than 10 years.  McGrath argued the Nursing Act’s provision for reinstatement allowed for the Board to grant such application within its discetion at any time, not earlier then 10 years stated under a separate provision of the Nursing Act.

She won in the Commonwealth Court and the Nursing Board took an appeal to the Supreme Count. The issue is “In view of the absence of an explicit directive for restoration of an automatically-suspended license which has not been revoked, should the court follow the 10 year reinstatement period or shorter.

I have written about the consequences of a Drug Act conviction many times.  The automatic suspension and delayed eligibility for either reinstatement or revocation present substantial impediments to practicing licensee.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in McGrath determines that after the Nursing Board has suspended a license, it may restore or reissue the license in its discretion (less than 10 years) subject to any disciplinary or corrective measure it could have originally imposed. § 224(b)(6). The process for doing so is reflected in Section 15 of the Nursing Law, which states, in pertinent part:

All suspensions and revocations shall be made only in accordance with the regulations of the Board, and only by majority vote of the members of the Board after a full and fair hearing before the Board…. The Board, by majority action and in accordance with its regulations, may reissue any license which has been suspended. If a license has been revoked, the Board can reissue a license only in accordance with section 15.2.
63 P.S. § 225. There are distinct procedures for the restoration of suspended versus revoked licenses, and it imposes a more restrictive regimen in relation to revoked licenses. In addition to the discretionary suspension of licenses under Sections 14 and 15, the Nursing Law contains a provision, added in 1985, for automatic suspension due to a felony conviction under the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.  63 P.S. § 225.1(b).  In particular, Section 15.1(b) of the Law states:
A license issued under this act shall automatically be suspended upon … conviction of a felony under the [Controlled Substance Act] …. As used in this section the term “conviction” shall include a judgment, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere…. Restoration of such license shall be made as hereinafter provided in the case of revocation or suspension of such license.
(emphasis added). In terms of the “hereinafter provided” clause of the above text, Section 15.2 indicates:
Unless ordered to do so by Commonwealth Court or an appeal therefrom, the Board shall not reinstate the license of a person to practice nursing … which has been revoked. Any person whose license has been revoked may reapply for a license, after a period of at least five (5) years, but must meet all of the licensing qualifications of this act for the license applied for, to include the examination requirement, if he or she desires to practice at any time after such revocation.
Finally, Section 6(c) of the Nursing Law, which relates to the qualifications for licensure, specifies that if a nursing license applicant has been convicted of a felony under the Controlled Substance Act, the Board may not issue a nursing license to that person unless: ten years have passed since the date of the conviction; the applicant demonstrates significant progress in rehabilitation so that licensure is not expected to create a substantial risk to patients or the public; and the applicant otherwise satisfies the licensure qualifications set forth in the Law. See63 P.S. § 216(c).
The McGrath Supreme Court specific states a professional nurse who has been licensed but whose license has been suspended is not similarly situated to an individual who has never been licensed—or, for that, matter, a person who was once licensed but whose license has been revoked. See generally Brown v. State Bd. of Pharmacy, 129 Pa. Cmwlth. 642, 646, 566 A.2d 913, 915 (1989) (acknowledging that a person holding a professional license still possesses a property right in that license even where it has been suspended (but not revoked), as a suspended license is “susceptible to revival”); Pittenger v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, 142 Pa. Cmwlth. 57, 61–62, 596 A.2d 1227, 1229–30 (1991) (same, and expressing further that “when a license … is revoked, it is extinguished and the former possessor is returned to the same position he occupied had the license or privilege never been issued” (quoting Keeley v. State Real Estate Comm’n, 93 Pa. Cmwlth. 291, 296, 501 A.2d 1155, 1158 (1985))).
Having conclude that reinstatement is eligible in less that ten years, such is still within the discretion of the Board.  More importantly, the Court affirmed the proposition that

Section 15.1(b) reflects a clear legislative policy judgment that a felony violation of the Controlled Substances Act is an especially serious infraction warranting an automatic license suspension.  “The Board [still possesses] … discretion to restore such a license in the manner applicable to other license suspensions after conducting an appropriate administrative review.”
This huge legal victory, is however, probably short lived.  The McGrath Court simply counsel’s the Board to seeking revocation of a license, in accordance with the procedures outlined in the Nursing Law, following a conviction under the Controlled Substances Act. See63 P.S. § 224(a)(8) (authorizing the Board to impose discipline, up to and including revocation, based on the acquisition, possession, distribution, or use of a controlled substance for other than acceptable medical purposes).  (“The Board could have sought revocation of Ms. McGrath’s license [under Section 14] … but it did not.” (emphasis omitted)). If an automatically-suspended license is ultimately revoked, reinstatement would then be governed by Section 15.2.
The McGrath lesson is two fold.  The case reveals very poor legislative drafting that creates a loop-hole, for suspended licensees convicted of Drug Act violations, which allows them to seek to seek license reinstatement under ten years when they have a good reason.  However, either the General Assembly will fix this statutory construction problem or the Board will change its policy and start revoking licenses of those professionals convicted of Drug Act violations.
Call me to discuss your criminal matter and the status of your license.

 

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Felony Convictions and License Reinstatement

A licensed professional convicted of a felony drug offense is a major impediment to securing licensure in another jurisdiction or seeking reinstatement once your professional license is disciplined for that conviction. In many license reinstatement cases, applicants are so in need of their license that they hire the wrong attorney, waste money on filing reinstatement petitions prior to the expiration of the license preclusion period, or simply give up on getting their license back.
In a 2017 Pennsylvania Nursing Board Final Adjudication and Order the nurse was convicted in 2006 in Delaware of practicing with an expired nursing license.  In 2015 she sought reinstatement of her Pennsylvania nursing license.  Because she was convicted of a felony involving the practice or professional in Delaware, the convicted offense and license discipline was applicable under the Pennsylvania Nursing Act to her Pennsylvania license.
After 8 years, she hired the wrong attorney to seek reinstatement of her Pennsylvania nursing license. Her attorney thought reinstatement was was possible based upon mitigation and rehabilitation evidence.  She was wrong.
Pennsylvania’s Professional Nursing Law, section 6(c), states that the “Board may not issue a license or [graduate training certificate] to an applicant who has been convicted or a felony relating to a controlled substance law (in any jurisdiction) unless at least 10 years has elapsed from the date of conviction.   It does not matter how much rehabilitation the applicant has undergone.  If the application for licensure is not outside the ten years, there is no legal ability for the Board to consider the license application.
This denial of licensure application case reveals that counsel for the applicant did not know the law.  Focusing on rehabilitation rather than eligibility, the applicant’s attorney wasted his client’s money on his premature application, hearing, and appeal time.
Licensing attorneys must know what evidence is admissible in the relaxed administrative hearing process under GRAPP (General Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure) 2 PA.C.S. § 504.  Knowing to what exhibits or evidence to object and facts an attorney should stipulate will make or break a licensee’s case.  The uninformed general practitioner will not know the importance or admissibility of certain evidence.  They will waste time and legal fee money fighting evidence that is admissible in evidence for the Board to consider or will move into evidence evidence that the Board should not consider.
More importantly, the uninformed practitioner will accept a case simply to pay their bills.  The uniformed attorney will take cases that have no merit, can not be won, or will lose a case that is easily won.  Desperate licensed professionals who are waiting out a discipline and seek reinstatement will pay an attorney who sounds good but can not discern the attorney’s lack of knowledge of their case.
Call me for confidence in understanding your case.  I will give you a clear understanding of the problem, counsel you about the risks and rewards of fighting your case.  I will not take your case, or fight for your license if you do not want me to, can not afford it, or there is no basis to seek reinstatement.
Fighting a disciplinary action – an Order to Show Cause -, contesting the VRP or DMU letters must be done with competent informed counsel. Never concede an impairment. Never admit an addiction without formal legal counseling on the affect of such on your license. Never plead guilty to any criminal offense without consultation with an experienced license attorney so you understand the collateral consequences of the criminal conviction, ARD, or no contest plea.  Please read my blogs and website to understand how I can help you and protect your license.

What is a “Conviction” – How Important is Drug Court to the Licensed Professional?

In 1999 Tim Kearney was issued his Pennsylvania physician assistant (“PA”) license. In March 2010 he admitted himself into a treatment facility for drug addiction issues.  On August 16, 2011 he plead guilty to the felony Drug Act violation –  securing a prescription by fraud.  At the time of his guilty plea, Kearney acknowledges he understood that by pleading guilty he was  “admitting to committing the criminal charge” as alleged under the Pennsylvania Drug Act.

In December 2011 the Pennsylvania Medical Board automatically suspended Mr. Kearney’s PA license for no less than 10 years pursuant to section 40(B) of the Medical Practices Act of 1985.  This provision requires the Board to suspend any licensee who suffers a felony conviction for violating any provision of Pennsylvania’s Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (CSA). 35 P.S. § 780–113(a)(12).

In December, 2011, Kearney filed in criminal court a petition to vacate his guilty plea and enroll in the county adult drug court program.  In June 2014, after 2 1/2 years in drug court, Kearney petitioned to vacate his guilty plea and dismiss the criminal case.   His request was based upon compliance with all terms and conditions of the program. On June 20, 2014 the county trial court dismissed all of Kearney’s criminal drug charges.  They were subsequently expunged. (This is really important.)

Six months later, in December, 2014, Kearney filed a Petition to Reinstate his PA license based upon the lack of criminal conviction, the expungement, and his extensive drug and alcohol treatment.  This blog discusses the Commonwealth Court opinion approving his petition and reversing the Medical Board’s refusal to reinstate Kearney’s PA license.  The case is found at Kearney v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, — A.3d —- (2017).

The Pennsylvania administrative law hearing examiner denied Kearney’s Petition to Reinstate his PA license. The hearing examiner concluded Kearney’s admission of guilt in the guilty plea colloquy and statement before the presiding judge when the charges were dismissed constitute either a conviction or an admission of guilt pursuant to the Medical Practices Act.  The hearing officer determined Kearney satisfied his burden of proof that he was able to resume his PA practice with reasonable skill and safety to patients, subject to monitoring by the physicians health program.

The Medical Board agreed with the hearing examiner that Mr. Kearney’s PA license remained indefinitely suspended as a result of a “conviction” as defined by the Medical Practices Act.  It did not reach the PHP and monitoring aspect of the decision because it determined Kearney’s license was still suspended.

Kearney appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which reversed. The sole issue on appeal was whether Kearney’s original guilty plea (vacated and now expunged) constituted a conviction and his statements on the record constitute “admissions of guilt“ in accordance with section 40B of the Medical Practices Act.

Commonwealth Court reviewed the Medical Practice Act.  “The Act provides, in pertinent part, that “[a] license or certificate issued under this act shall automatically be suspended upon … conviction of a felony under the act … known as [t]he [CSA] ….” 63 P.S. § 422.40(b). Section 40(b) of the Act clarifies that “[a]s used in this section, the term ‘conviction’ shall include a judgment, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere.Id.; see also section 2 of the Act, 63 P.S. § 422.2 (defining “conviction” as “[a] judgment of guilt, an admission of guilt or a plea of nolo contendere.

  • Section 43 of the Act further states that “[a]ny person whose license, certificate or registration has been suspended or revoked because of a felony conviction under the [CSA] … may apply for reinstatement after a period of at least ten years has elapsed from the date of conviction.” 63 P.S. § 43.

While the Act provides for automatic suspension of a license for a felony “conviction” under the CSA, the Act incorporates the CSA by express reference. By all reasonable means, this compelled the Court to unify two or more statutes in a cohesive and consistent fashion and avoid interpreting one statute in a manner that repeals or is otherwise incongruous with another statute.

Under section 17 of the CSA, a trial court “may place a person on probation without verdict if the person pleads nolo contendere or guilty to any nonviolent offense under [the CSA] and the person proves he is drug dependent.” 35 P.S. 780–117. (This is a Section 17 plea.)

Importantly, that section also states that “[u]pon fulfillment of the terms and conditions of probation, the court shall discharge such person and dismiss the proceedings against him,” adding that the “dismissal shall be without adjudication of guilt and shall not constitute a conviction for any purpose whatever ….” 35 P.S. § 780–117(3) (emphasis added). Section 19 of the CSA further declares that records of arrest or prosecution under the Act will be expunged. When a court orders expungement, the records “shall not … be regarded as an arrest or prosecution for the purpose of any statute or regulation or license or questionnaire or any civil or criminal proceeding or any other public or private purpose.” 35 P.S. § 780–119(b).

As a surface matter, Commonwealth court observes that a plain reading of the statutes indicates that, while the Act includes an “admission of guilt” as a subpart of the definition of a “conviction,” the CSA commands that a final disposition of “probation without verdict” does not constitute a “conviction.” Under the procedure in section 17 of the CSA for a “probation without verdict,” an individual’s “plea” is, in essence, held in abeyance, or not accepted, until there is a final determination by the court as to whether the individual has satisfactorily completed the terms and conditions of probation; if the individual does so, the trial court dismisses the charges and there is no verdict or finding of guilt in the matter.

Consequently, in order to afford the phrase “for any purpose whatever” in section 17 of the CSA its full linguistic effect, the Court reasonably interpreted it to mean that the oral and written statements made to a trial court in connection with a “probation without verdict” cannot be a considered a “conviction” for purposes of section 40(b) of the Act. To be sure, this construction is the only way in which the term “conviction” in the Act can be harmonized with the same term in the CSA.

Indeed, following dismissal of the underlying charges, the criminal record is expunged pursuant to section 19 of the CSA, and the criminal record cannot be used at all in an administrative licensing matter – not even as proof that the individual  was arrested or prosecuted.  In some statutes, our General Assembly, without using the word “conviction,” has expressly included the phrase “probation without verdict” to describe the basis upon which a licensing board can refuse, suspend, or revoke a professional license.

However, the General Assembly did not insert this or similar language in the Act. Nor did   the General Assembly inject “probation without verdict” alongside “admission of guilt” in the Act’s definition of a “conviction.” Inferentially, the divergence in word usage among the CSA, the Act, and other similar statutes is indicative of the General Assembly’s desire to conceptually separate an “admission of guilt” from a “probation without verdict,” suggesting to courts that the two should not be perceived or linked as being one and the same.

On the whole, Commonwealth Court precedent has clearly concluded as much.   For example, in Carlson, a teacher entered a plea of nolo contendere to charges that he possessed drugs in violation of the CSA, a plea that has “the same legal effect as a plea of guilty in the criminal proceedings in which it is entered.” 418 A.2d at 813. The criminal case proceeded under the provisions of section 17 of the CSA, and the teacher eventually had his criminal record expunged. Although this Court was convinced that the school district properly dismissed the teacher for immorality pursuant to sections 1122 and 1129 of the Public School Code, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L. 30, as amended 24 P.S. §§ 11–1122 and 11–1129, we pointed to the special nature and characteristics of the CSA and the probation without a verdict mechanism.

More specifically, the Court explained that when the charges are dismissed following compliance with probation, “no judgment is entered, notwithstanding the fact that the defendant is placed on probation, an act which normally constitutes a sentence, i.e. a judgment.” 418 A.2d at 813. On this basis, we determined that evidence of the teacher’s plea of nolo contendere was inadmissible, and further reasoned that, as a result of the expungement, there was “no criminal record” upon which the trier of fact could determine that the teacher engaged in conduct of a criminal nature. Id. Accordingly, this Court held that the teacher could not be discharged from his employment with the school district as a matter of law.

The crisp and clean understanding of this case is that in any Medical Board supervised license case, for which disciplinary action is based upon a conviction that has been opened and erased due to Drug Court compliance, there is no conviction.  There is no basis to deny reinstatement of a license.  Whether the PHP gets involved is a different question.  This case merely, but forcefully, allows for eligibility for reinstatement once Drug Court is served, complied with, and all charges are dismissed and expunged.

Call me to discuss your case.

 

Serious Medical Conditions according to Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Law and How They Relate to Medical Professionals

medical-marijuana-doctor-online

Pennsylvania began the legalization of medical marijuana with specific limitations on the medical conditions for which a practitioner can issue a prescription for medical marijuana (“MM”).   Act 16 of 2016, Section 403 (a) – Conditions for issuance – allows a physician to certify medical necessity only if all of the following requirements are met:

(1)  The practitioner has been approved by the department for inclusion in the registry and has a valid, unexpired, unrevoked, unsuspended Pennsylvania license to practice medicine at the time of the issuance of the certification.

(2)  The practitioner has determined that the patient has a serious medical condition and has included the condition in the patient’s health care record.

(3)  The patient is under the practitioner’s continuing care for the serious medical condition.

(4)  In the practitioner’s professional opinion and review of past treatments, the practitioner determines the patient is likely to receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the use of medical marijuana.

The regulations define Serious medical condition as:

 (i) Cancer.
 (ii) Positive status for Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
 (iii) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
 (iv) Parkinson’s disease.
 (v) Multiple sclerosis.
 (vi) Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity.
 (vii) Epilepsy.
 (viii) Inflammatory bowel disease.
 (ix) Neuropathies.
 (x) Huntington’s disease.
 (xi) Crohn’s disease.
 (xii) Post-traumatic stress disorder.
 (xiii) Intractable seizures.
 (xiv) Glaucoma.
 (xv) Sickle cell anemia.
 (xvi) Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective.
 (xvii) Autism.

For the medical licensee seeking a medical marijuana card, the significance of these medical conditions cannot be understated.  A Pennsylvania medical licensee (nurse, doctor, dentist, and all others)  will have to suffer from a serious medical condition.  A referring medical marijuana practitioner  will have to certify the professional licensee’s serious medical condition necessitates marijuana for therapeutic or treatment reasons.  The practitioner will have to perform a completed and full assessment of the patient’s medical history and current medical condition, including an in-person consultation with the patient.  Reviewing the prescription drug monitoring history of that patient/licensee will also be necessary.

A MM practitioner will have to credibly determine that imminent disability is present, warranting therapeutic medical marijuana as all other drugs have or are failing.   Well, if the medical professional is disabled, they can not do their job.  If they are high on medical pot, the Boards think these licensees probably should not be permitted to practice their profession.

The burden of proof in disciplinary cases involving drugs or alcohol is whether the licensee suffers “from a drug or alcohol addiction or impairment or a medical condition that renders them incapable safely practicing.”  If a medical licensee’s MM practitioner suggests to the Department of Health the licensee is medically disabled to a degree that requires the therapeutic use of medical marijuana, a medical record has been generated stating the licensee is almost medical disability from practicing their profession. The medical impairment burden, it could be argued, has been met.

Conversely, if the medical licensee is prescribed medical marijuana (but not disabled), the use of medical grade marijuana renders the licensee under the influence of drugs or alcohol to such an extent that renders them in capable of safely practicing.  This logical reasoning jump  — using marijuana automatically renders one unsafe the practice — is found in other provisions of Pennsylvania law.  Those include the Drug act and Pennsylvania’s DUI statute.

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Pennsylvania’s DUI statute, 75 Pa. C.S.A. §3802(d) provides for legal intoxication if the mere presence of marijuana is in one’s bloodstream.  (Pennsylvania is not a drug recognition state where the prosecutor has to put into evidence testimony from a drug recognition expert, a “DRE”, that the level of marijuana in somebody’s blood renders them under the influence and incapable of safely driving.)  Pennsylvania is a per se violation state.  This means that the legislature has determined as a matter of policy, that any marijuana or other schedule II prescription medication in a person’s blood, renders that person automatically incapable of safely driving.

It is not a hard legal argument to suggest that if you can not safely drive because you are high on pot (any amount), the medical professional can not perform their medical  duties because they are high on pot.  Here is where the confidentiality provisions of the Act are important.   Section 301(A)(4) of the Act establishes an electronic database to include activities and information relating to medical marijuana organizations, certifications and identification cards issued, practitioner registration and electronic tracking of all medical marijuana as required under the Act.

Section 301(B)(a) allows for confidentiality of Patient information.–The department shall maintain a confidential list of patients and caregivers to whom it has issued identification cards. All information obtained by the department relating to patients, caregivers and other applicants shall be confidential and not subject to public disclosure, including disclosure under the act of February 14, 2008 (P.L.6, No.3), known as the Right-to-Know Law, including:

(1)  Individual identifying information about patients and caregivers.
(2)  Certifications issued by practitioners.
(3)  Information on identification cards.
(4)  Information provided by the Pennsylvania State Police under section 502(b).
(5)  Information relating to the patient’s serious medical condition.

My concern is that these provisions in conjunction with other Pennsylvania rules and regulations will be employed against the medical professional who seeks and secures a medical marijuana card.  Your doctor must provide this information to the Department of Health.  If pot is found in a medical licensee’s blood, getting the medical records from their doctor (who will be discovered through the data base) is very easy.  Or, the licensee will be compelled to identify and provide their MM practitioner and his records at a Board ordered evaluation.

My experience in Pennsylvania’s heightened enforcement environment strengthens my conviction on this point. Currently every single DUI, workplace positive drug test, or other minor legal infraction is generating Board ordered mental and physical evaluations. The Boards are getting ready for a waive of intoxicated professionals.  They are gravely concerned for the well being of the Commonwealth’s citizens.  The Boards figure, get any current licensee help, stripped of their license, or at least in the Board’s radar so that when that licensee starts legally or illegally getting high and they learn of it they will be ready.   Any issue that brings the medical professional – high on legal Pennsylvania medical pot – to their respective Board’s attention will become the subject of a targeted enforcement scheme to strip their license.

 

Call me to discuss your medical condition, medical needs, and how to proceed.

 

 

 

Last Shore Ride of the Summer Season

 

Summer is almost gone.  Almost is a relative word.  Summer is gone.  Ok, I understand it better now.  This is why I am getting up at the same time, but the sun has yet to rise.  As seasons change, so should we.

My clients and friends alike know I email, text, and get much worthy work done before or at sunrise.  This is regardless of when such occurs.  When riding my bike at these early times, I learned – almost the hard way – to make sure the light leading the way – sun or man made – was bright enough.

The weekend before 2017 Labor Day found me up early with a  fellow early riser enjoying the sunrise from a concrete perch between Longport, Ocean City, and Somer’s Point, NJ.  The majesty that happens each day, clear or cloudy, brings awe and surprise.  Views and scenery are what get me up on the bike so early.

Three clear, sunny, and increasingly windy mornings made each ride different.  Alternate and longer long routes also mixed it up.  Each day’s returning home trek brought me to the 9th Street Bridge entering Ocean City, NJ.  Gazing upon Ferris’ wheel, the mere slivers of land between the water ways, and 360 degree views takes my breadth away.

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As with life, the important things are the small ones.  Smell the coffee, take that break or picture, and soak up life.  Throughout these long 40-60 mile rides we always stop when coming across nature’s wonders. (Not for the road kill.  It smells so bad.)  Appreciate daily the bikers, joggers, landscapes, or just family that are around you.

See them. Understand them. Embrace them.  They are always orbiting your existence.  Don’t always change their trajectory to mirror yours. Let them continue on their course with you a follower of them.  The Boy Scout principle “Leave No Trace” comes to mind. Appreciate what is there, but do not disturb.  Evaluate, investigate, and gain knowledge.  But, leave it undisturbed for others to do the same.

Ending my ride brings me back towards Longport, NJ with the sun streaking towards its daily zenith. Tired, worn out, but loving each pedal stroke, I am ready for the remainder of the day.  But mostly, I just need a cup of coffee.

Northampton County’s 1861 Court Room!!

Finding the diamond in the rough. That describes my recent drive to the Northampton County Courthouse. As my law practice takes me from the Philadelphia’s suburban counties to northeastern Pennsylvania, I routinely travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and its Northeast extension.
The drive this July week was rough. The weather forecast proved accurate; rain and fog through the Lehigh Valley. It was raining so hard, I missed my exit off Rt 476E at Rt 22 E. I drove an additional 20 miles each direction, turning around in Jim Thorpe. (I love the Carbon County Courthouse – see my other blogs – but I was not going there today.)
 I was uncharacteristically late, arriving at 9:25 am for a 9:00 am hearing.  I was otherwise safe.  The judge was extremely gracious and polite. The case was handled quickly.  Opposing counsel – a local assistant district attorney – offered a tour of the courthouse as I expressed my appreciation for our hearing taking place in the old courthouse, courtroom 3, as compared to the new 2004 building.
The county website states, “The original court house was built in  1764. Nearly a century later and after the courthouse had experienced a number of historical events, which included being used as a barracks by Revolutionary troops, a group of citizens petitioned for a new County Courthouse at a different location. On August 23, 1860, the County Commissioners decided to accept land offered at a price of $1.00 that was located several blocks west of the original facility.   A new brick structure was later built on a steep hill at a cost of $53,000. The first term of court was held in the new facility on June 18, 1861.  Since then, two additional wings were constructed to accommodate the growth of Northampton County and satisfy the judicial needs of the expanded population.  The second part of the courthouse was built in 1978 and the third in 2004. “
I was interested in the 1861 building and court room 1.  Finished at the out set of the Civil War.   Wow!! A majestic legal theater, refurbished in 1978 to match the import to the community when the courthouse was built. Original woodwork, plaster, and paint are renewed. County Commissioners rightfully chose to not clutter the court room with of a phalanx of computer cables, microphones, and other modern day accoutrements that clutter some other county courtrooms in which I practice.
The pictures below reveal the courtroom’s grand entrance, judicial bench, and the jury box of the times. The remarkable woodwork and attention to detail immediately reveals itself. The artisans of Pennsylvania’s counties knew their work would be on display at every important and public event of the times. The honor and respect they earned working for their local government on the most important building in the county.

Try to Recognize when an Attorney is Needed

When is it important to hire an attorney in a licensing and criminal defense case? When case agent first contacts you!  Do not talk to them.  Just say thank you, I will call you back; can we meet next week; no you can not come into my house!!
Every day licensing board investigators, police detectives, human resource departments, or other government investigators reach out to targets or “individuals of interest” in a wide range of potential investigations. These law enforcement officers (most state investigators are retired police detectives) are trained to secure statements from the subject of the investigation.  They call you, show up at your house, or try to meet with you at work.  This is when you know you need a lawyer.

My blogs generate phone calls from potential clients.  A recent theme of these calls sticks out;  investigators are employing consistent, heightened and aggressive investigative techniques to surreptitiously secure statements and admissions of criminal conduct, unprofessional licensing behavior, or illegal behavior.  This is explained in one sentence; why do an investigation when an admission from the target will solve the case.

Targets give statements for one reason: ignorance and naïve understanding of the law.   Targets  or potential criminal defendants give statements because they think they are obligated to cooperate, should cooperate, or that cooperating is in their best interest.  These reasons are incorrect.
Admitting to engaging in questionable or criminal conduct eliminates investigator’s obligation and duty of proving their case through means other than an admission by the target.  Admissions to detectives and investigators eliminates their need to perform basic investigator police work.  It satisfies  the police officer’s burden of proof in securing evidence of illegal or criminal conduct against you.
Licensees who admit to a Board investigator to practicing outside the scope of their license, stealing from their clients, overcharging for services, or any other offense does the investigator’s job.  In many cases, before the statement is secured, there is only a mere suspicion of inappropriate behavior.  There is no specific evidence of a criminal act. The statement itself becomes the evidence against you. The person giving the statement creates the criminal evidence for the investigator that they did not otherwise have.   (I feel the same way  about licensees who cooperate in the PHMP VRP assessments.  Do not give the Board’s any evidence they do not have.)
Once a criminal admission is given, the police officers don’t do anymore work. The state investigators don’t do anymore work. This is why there is no legal obligation to cooperate.
Giving statements to employers in work place investigations has the same ultimate result. I have written about this many times. Choosing to not give a blood test, write a personal statement, or even provide copies of medical records cannot be held against you. You can be fired, but it can’t be held against you. At times it’s more important to choose to remain silent then to keep your job.  Anything you say in the employment setting is merely turned over to the board investigator or police.
Remaining silent and not cooperating with any investigation  — not disclosing truly damaging information — sometimes is the best defense of your license or against criminal charges.  Do not succumb to the police officer bullying. Suggestions by police that they can secure search or arrest warrants should not persuade you to give up your constitutional rights.
You do not have to give a statement. You do not have to give a DNA test. You do not have to participate in any polygraph evaluation.   If the officer does not believe your word or accept your version of events, agreeing to provide objective forensic evidence will not change their mind. You will just be giving them evidence to accumulate and use against you at a later date.
Hopefully you have the opportunity to read this blog before you have spoken to an investigator about a licensing issue, participated in the workplace related investigation, or cooperated with any police inquiry inquiry about your job or your behavior. If not, call me as soon as possible.
Whether you hire me or any other lawyer, stop stop cooperating with any police investigation.

Road Riding in the Counties

My personal and business travel is taking me to more counties throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania than ever before. The local courthouse houses in the county seats are really interesting for me. The court houses — arenas of legal combat — are throw backs to more glorious days when the local big trial was the event of the year.
In the past I took for granted these architectural gems that are spread throughout the various townships and boroughs within which I practice.   Now, I seek out and explore the courthouses. Whether by car or bike, I am having fun.
This spring I bought myself a road bike. I ride ferociously around the eastern part of Pennsylvania. I have the pleasure of routinely riding through Philadelphia,  Conshohocken, Norristown, and Valley Forge Park. All are within 5-15 miles of my house.  Sometimes I ride from my house to Philadelphia and back.
A recent Saturday took me on a further ride — from West Chester to the City of Lancaster. The road ride began in West Chester and ended in Lancaster County, behind the Court House. We departed West Chester through its southern rolling-hills of Brandywine Township. We followed Brandywine Creek through East Bradford Township, Downingtown  to West Fallowfield Township. One word — marvelous.
After 90 minutes the group ride, with me at the back of the pack, entered Lancaster County. I was greeted by signs for farm fresh brown eggs, personally constructed homes, garages, sheds, and wonderful antique tractors.
Tractors, tractors, tractors. But not your ordinary tractors.  These were green, yellow and red tractors, pulled by horses. The drawn mowing tractors were hard at work, gas free, mowing lawns and fields. Some tractors were too tired to work, gathering rust. There was no worry about rubber tires rotting. Metal wheels needed no repairs.
The morning aromas changed with each turn in the road. Pungent cow, horse, pig dung awoke my sinuses.  Crushed wild blackberries and dripping vines of honeysuckles permeated homesteads. The morning dew clung to grass blades and tree branches through the Brandywine Creek bike route. Entering Lancaster and riding down Duke Street brought with it fresh bakery smells and the Lancaster County brewing Company.
In each county seat, I look for a small coffee shop. Lancaster’s Prince Street Café did not disappoint. The fresh cappuccino after a 50 mile ride awakened all of my exhausted senses. Orange juice and fresh eggs on a croissant made me even happier. The pictures below reflects the quaintness of the café and the wonderful effort the bakers and barista’s gave the Saturday morning breakfast crowd.
An unexpected joy came as I began to get ready for my drive home. Just to the west of the Prince Street Café is the Lancaster County Donuts Shop. Homemade donuts and holes are sold with every conceivable topping — as if I was in an ice cream shop — tantalized my taste buds. The sublime chocolate with vanilla cream cheese frosting carried me through the rest of my day.
I could not have been happier. Content and satisfied by a hard work out, great ride with new friends and a bulging stomach.  Blair and Clearfield counties also did not disappoint. I’ll keep you posted.

What is and is not Psychology?

In preparation for recent hearing, I came across an extremely complex legal topic. The issue is to what extent of can licensees under the Pennsylvania State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors  practice their profession short of practicing psychology.

What are these practices?

  • “PRACTICE OF MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPY.” The professional application of psychotherapeutic and family systems theories and techniques to the evaluation, assessment and treatment of mental and emotional disorders, whether cognitive, affective or behavioral. The term includes the evaluation and assessment of mental and emotional disorders in the context of significant interpersonal relationships and the delivery of psychotherapeutic services to individuals, couples, families and groups for the purpose of treating such disorders.
  • “PRACTICE OF PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING.” Includes, to the extent compatible with a practitioner’s education and professional competence, all of the following:
    • (1)  The application of principles and practices of counseling, mental health and human development to evaluate and facilitate human growth and adjustment throughout the life span and to prevent and treat mental, emotional or behavioral disorders and associated stresses which interfere with mental health and normal human growth and development.
    • (2)  The evaluation and assessment of normal and abnormal mental, emotional, social, educational, vocational, family and behavioral functioning throughout the life span; individual, group, family counseling and psychotherapy; crisis intervention, career counseling and educational and vocational counseling; functional assessment of persons with disabilities; and professional consulting.
    • (3)  Professional counselors’ utilization of verbal and nonverbal approaches and specialization in the use of arts-based therapeutic approaches, such as art, dance, music or drama, to accomplish treatment objectives.
  • “PRACTICE OF SOCIAL WORK.” Offering to render or rendering a service in which a special knowledge of social resources, human personality and capabilities and therapeutic techniques is directed at helping people to achieve adequate and productive personal, interpersonal and social adjustments in their individual lives, in their families and in their community or holding oneself out to the public by any title or description of services incorporating the term “social worker” or using any words or symbols indicating or tending to indicate that one is a social worker, except as otherwise provided by this act.

Conversely, the Professional Psychologists Practice Act, 63 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1203(3) also provides significant guidance.  The Psychologist Act creates a separate exemption for qualified members of other recognized professions including, but not limited to Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors. This section  1203(3) of the Psychologists Act states:

Nothing in this act shall be construed to prevent qualified members of other recognized professions, including, but not limited to, clergy, drug and alcohol abuse counselors, mental health counselors, social workers, crisis intervention counselors, marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors, rehabilitation counselors and psychoanalysts, from doing work of a psychological nature consistent with the training and the code of ethics of their respective professions or to prevent volunteers from providing services in crisis or emergency situations. This exemption applies only to the practice of the respective listed profession.

So, what is practicing Psychology?  “Practice of psychology” means offering to render or rendering to individuals, corporations, institutions, governmental agencies, or the public for remuneration any service involving the following:

(i) The application of established principles of learning, motivation, perception, thinking, and emotional relationships to problems of personality evaluation, group relations, and behavior adjustment. The application of said principles includes, but is not restricted to, counseling and the use of psychological methods with persons or groups with adjustment problems in the areas of work, family, school, and person?-1 relationships; . measuring and testing· of personality, intelligence, aptitudes, and emotions, and offering services as a psychological consultant.

(ii)(a) “Measuring and testing,” consisting of the psychological assessment and evaluation of abilities, attitudes, aptitudes, achievements, adjustments, motives, personality dynamics and/or other psychological attributes of individuals, or groups of individuals by means of standardized measurements or other methods, techniques or procedures recognized by the science and profession of psychology, (b) “psychological methods,” consisting of the application of principles of learning and motivation in an interpersonal situation with the objectives of modification of perception and adjustment, and requiring highly developed skills in the disciplines, techniques, and methods of altering through learning processes, attitudes, feelings, values, self-concept, personal goals· and adaptive patterns, ( c) “psychological consulting,” consisting of interpreting or reporting upon scientific fact or theory in psychology, rendering expert psychological opinion, psychological evaluation, or engaging in applied psychological research.

This definition contains numerous elements, which can be broken down as follows: (1) the practitioner offers to render or renders (2) to individuals, corporations, institutions, governmental agencies, or the public (3) for remuneration ( 4) any service involving one or more of the following:

(a) the application of established principles of learning, motivation, perception, thinking, and emotional relationships to problems of personality evaluation, group relations,, and behavior adjustment, which established principles include measuring and testing of personality, intelligence, aptitudes, and ’emotions, and offering services as a psychological consultant; or (b) psychological assessment and evaluation of abilities, attitudes, aptitudes, achievements, adjustments, motives, personality dynamics and/or other psychological attributes of individuals by means of standardized measurements or other methods, techniques or procedures recognized by the science and profession of psychology; or (c) “psychological consulting,” consisting of interpreting or reporting upon scientific fact or theory in psychology, rendering expert psychological opinion, psychological evaluation, or engaging in applied psychological research.

In applying these definitions to the exemptions, 49 Pa. Code § 41.7 incorporates a statement of policy that provides guidelines for determining whether a given group qualifies as a “recognized profession” for the purposes of section 63 P .S. § 1203(3). Those guidelines read as follows:

(1) The group’s activity and focus must be based on an identifiable body of theoretical knowledge which, although it may include areas of coII1I11on knowledge shared with psychology, is demonstrably different, in the aggregate, from the body of theoretical knowledge underlying psychology.
(2) The group must regulate entrance into professional membership by means of standards of knowledge, training and proficiency generally accepted by the profession with which it identifies.
(3) ) . The group’s activity must be guided by generally accepted quality standards, ethical principles and requirements for an independent profession.
(4) The group must exhibit the ordinary accoutrements of a profession, which may include, but are not limited· to, professional journals, regional and national conferences, specific academic curricula and degrees, continuing education opportunities, regional and national certification and awards for outstanding practice within the profession.

More importantly, Section 1203(3) does not absolving these other licensed professionals from the prohibition against holding themselves out to the public by any title incorporating the words “psychological,” “psychologist” or “psychology” without first obtaining a license to practice psychology pursuant to the act.  The blanket advertising limitation set forth in section 1203 states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in the practice of psychology or to offer or attempt to do so or to hold himself out to the public by any title or description of services incorporating the words “psychological,” psychologist” or “psychology” unless he shall first have obtained a license pursuant to this act, except as hereinafter provided:

Pursuant to the Ethical Principal 4(b) of the board’s regulations, “only psychologists licensed by a state board of psychologists examiners may be listed under the heading of psychologists in the yellow pages of the telephone directory.” 49 Pa. Code § 41.61.

Dezen v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, 722 A.2d 1135 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1999) discussed this issue. Dezen, a licensed social worker advertised in the Yellow Pages his ability to provide psychological counseling and similar services. The board found that he was not licensed as a psychologist and could not advertise his testing services as such.  The case law clearly precludes any other licensed professionals from holding themselves out to the public by any title or description of services incorporating the term using any words or symbols indicating portending to indicate that he or she his license or authorized to practice in any other capacity send their specific licensed professional.

Call me to discuss your case.

 

A Harsh Disciplinary Enforcement Environment for Pennsylvania Licensees

I write this blog in preparation for a Pennsylvania Nursing Board ordered Mental and Physical Examination (“MPE”) of a client.   It is startling the number of these board ordered evaluations or PHMP/PHP/PNAP assessments due to some type of licensee criminal conduct.  The heightened disciplinary activity among all boards reveals a much stricter atmosphere of licensee disciplinary enforcement.  Why?
Pennsylvania’s heightened disciplinary environment is based upon a single legislative occurrence and a single judicial decision.  Legislatively, passage of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana regulatory scheme has prompted a review of all licensing laws in anticipation of increased licensee impairment and criminal activity due to marijuana usage (legal or not).
A prime example of this is Senate Bill 354 of 2017.  I wrote about this bill last week.  This bill seeks to compel any licensee charged with a crime (not convicted) to report such to their respective licensing board within 30 days of arrest.  Failure to report will constitute a separate basis for discipline.  This Bill seeks to bring the boards’ immediate knowledge of licensee’s criminal conduct so discipline can commence sooner.
Pennsylvania’s licensing boards subscribe to JNET – Pennsylvania’ criminal fingerprint data base.  The Boards already know of licensee’s criminal charges of which they already expect them to report upon conviction.  However, the Boards now want quicker reporting, with an additional and stronger basis for discipline.  False reporting and failing to report criminal conduct!!
But this bill is not not law.  So what’s the juice?  The juice is that current licensee’s facing disciplinary action for some really minor issues will think twice before smoking pot; they will tell their friends and co-workers to think twice before smoking pot and taking care of the public.  The health related boards are gearing up prosecutors for stricter supervision of all licensees.  In this conservative jurisdiction, pot is thought to be a gateway drug to heroin.  The prescription based opiate epidemic caught the health related boards with their pants down.  It will not happen again with the passage of medical marijuana.
The enforcement environment also extends to potential licensees enrolled in any health related school who apply for licensure with a criminal history of one or two DUI’s.  I represent many individuals whose licensure applications have been stalled based upon conditional denials and compelled PHMP enrollment.   A new regulation requiring  license applicants to be licensed within 12 months of taking their board examinations aides the Board in weeding out potential applicants who do not accept PHMP enrollment.
DO NOT go willy-nilly to the PHP/PHMP assessment and or evaluation with the expectation that you will pass and be given your license.  DO NOT answer the personal data sheet with out consulting an attorney.  DO NOT talk to the PHMP intake or assessors without attorney preparation.  They write everything down — your story of depression, injured or dead family members, your divorce, your child abuse history.  The PHMP people will always recommend enrollment in the VRP after you, the new licensee, admit your mental health treatment, drug use, and inability to practice safely.   How can you admit you can not practice safely if you have never practiced?  Applicants fighting their cases must be patient and call me ASAP. 
The Birchfield decision (written about in other blogs) is the judicial decision most affecting disciplinary actions.  Birchfield focused on the admissibility of blood alcohol levels as a result of a non-consensual blood draw in a DUI investigation. This case has rippled through every Pennsylvania county’s drunk driving enforcement efforts.  Birchfield ruled inadmissible DUI blood evidence that revealed drugs (illegal or prescription) and/or marijuana use.
Birchfield rendered blood drug use evidence an inappropriate basis for licensee disciplinary action.  The heightened reporting responsibilities of nurses (30 days from arrest), allow petitions for mental and physical evaluations based upon affidavits of probable cause reflecting alcohol or drug use even though blood evidence is not admissible in a court of law.  The Boards want to know right away what its licensees are smoking or drugs they are ingesting.
Pennsylvania licensees need to fight every criminal case. The new notice provisions in Bill 354 will become law.  While criminal charges are pending licensees will have to provide a potentially incriminating personal statement to a licensing board.  This is crazy.  There is no 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in a professional license defense.  Licensees need an attorney to help draft counseled answers to strategic legal questions and statements under these circumstances.  Now, more than any time in the recent past, licensees should utilize counsel to properly protect their license.
The Boards use their experts to determine impairment.  Why shouldn’t you use your expert to protect your license?  Licensees face workplace challenges, complex life issues, and now a crazy enforcement environment in Pennsylvania.    Mail from the PHMP, PHP, and PNAP present multi- faceted traps for even the most experienced licensees.  Licensee need their own expert — an experienced criminal and administrative law attorney to effectively protect their license.  Call me to discuss your criminal or license case.
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