Drug Act, Automatic Suspensions, and the Time Period for Reinstatement

In November, I wrote a blog about  McGrath v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, No. 5 WAP 2017, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 3109, at *12-13 (Nov. 22, 2017). Felony Convictions and License Reinstatement This case has now been interpreted in a second license revocation appeal. Joseph Thomas Acri, D.O., Petitioner v. Bureau of Professional…, — A.3d —- (2018). Acri, a D.O., medical license was suspended due to prescription fraud.   The State Board of Osteopathic Medicine (Board), automatically suspended his license to practice osteopathic medicine and surgery pursuant to section 14(b) of the Osteopathic Medical Practice Act (Act) based upon his felony convictions under The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act (CSA), 35 P.S. §§ 780-101—780-144.   He appealed his 10 year ineligibility for license reissuance.

In McGrath, the key holding focuses on the 10 year license ineligibility after a Drug Act felony conviction.  The Court there ruled that the statute evidenced irreconcilable ambiguities regarding whether an individual must wait ten years before applying for reinstatement after having his or her license suspended for violating the CSA. In so holding, the Court noted that a general provision in the Law granted the licensing board with authority to reissue a suspended license, irrespective of a time frame; the section providing for a ten-year waiting period applied to “applicants;” the section dealing with a five-year waiting period concerned the “revocation” and not the “suspension” of a license; and the provisos relating to the “restoration” or “reissuance” of a license made it unclear through which provision the licensing board should consider an application for reinstatement.

After applying the general rules of statutory construction, the Court in McGrath determined that the statutory language remained ambiguous, and because the Law was penal in nature, the court construed it strictly and in favor of the individual. Therefore, the court reversed the licensing board’s order to the extent it imposed a license suspension for a mandatory period of not less than ten years and concluded that the licensing board should process any application for reissuance in accordance with the general, discretionary provision of the Law granting it the power to reissue a suspended license.


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 discretion at any time, not earlier then 10 years stated under a separate provision of the Nursing Act.  The Court agreed, stating it is within the Board’s discretionary provision of the Law granting it the power to reissue a suspended license.


Acri argued the same logic and reasoning applied to the statutes and Board regulations applicable to license doctors under the Osteopathic Act, 63 P.S. § 271..2 and 14a.  Acri maintained the Board’s order automatically suspending his licenses for a period of not less than ten years was in error.  The Court agreed!   Importantly, at oral argument before the appellate court, the Board conceded that there were no statutory time constraints placed upon Petitioner and that he could apply for reinstatement or reissuance when he so desires.  This is the ruling of McGrath!


The Acri Court, however,  admonishes the Osteopathic Board and all other licensing Boards to implement this procedure.  “However, this concession does not alter the fact that the Board’s order strongly suggests otherwise, or is at least ambiguous. Although we have no doubt that, in the future, the Board will fulfill its promise to interpret and apply its order in the way that it said it would, this Court nevertheless has an obligation to address the legal issue presented to it.”


Here the court is saying to the licensing boards, fix your Board disciplinary orders and remove the time period of disqualification for petitions for reinstatement.   The Court’s language is very instructive. “Therefore, pursuant to our decision in McGrath, we modify the Board’s order insofar as it imposed a mandatory five or ten year suspension on Petitioner’s license. In accordance with this memorandum opinion, any reissuance request from a suspension for violating the CSA shall be processed and reviewed under section 15(c)(6) of the Act.”

These two decisions continue in the process of allowing for license reinstatement or reissuance sooner, and not under and specific time period of preclusion.  The difficult legal issue now will be that an appeal of any board order denying license reinstatement for felony Drug Act conviction will be based upon an abuse of discretion standard and not an error of law standard.  The abuse of discretion standard is viewed in light of the general rule that all licensing boards are charged with the responsibility and authority to oversee the profession and to regulate and license professionals to protect the public health and safety. Barran v. State Board of Medicine, 670 A.2d 765, 767 (Pa .Cmwlth.1996), appeal denied 679 A.2d 230 (Pa.1996).

An abuse of discretion is generally defined as a misapplication of the law, a manifestly unreasonable exercise in judgment, or a final result that evidences partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will. Allegheny County v. Golf Resort, Inc., 974 A.2d 1242 (Pa.Cmwlth.2009); Pastorius v. State Real Estate Commission, 466 A.2d 780 (Pa.Cmwlth.1983). When reviewing the exercise of discretion by an administrative agency, the Court may not, in the absence of bad faith, fraud, capricious action or abuse of power, inquire into the wisdom of the agency’s action or into the details or manner of executing agency action. Slawek v. State Board of Medical Education and Licensure, 526 Pa. 316, 586 A.2d 362 (1990); Blumenschein v. Pittsburgh Housing Authority, 379 Pa. 566, 109 A .2d 331 (1954). Appellate courts may interfere in an agency decision only when there has been a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion or a purely arbitrary execution of the agency’s duties or functions.  Although the Commonwealth Court is required to correct abuses of discretion involving penalties and sanctions imposed by a licensing board, the appeal court may not substitute its discretion for that of the board, which is an administrative body endowed with expertise in matters subject to its jurisdiction. Burnworth v. State Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers, and Salespersons, 589 A.2d 294 (Pa . Cmwlth.1991).

Call me to discuss your case on appeal.





Disciplinary Action – Scope of Practice Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners

Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners (“CRNP”) can prescribe medication, examine patients, diagnose illnesses, and provide treatment, much like physicians do. In fact, nurse practitioners have what’s referred to as “full practice authority” in 20 states, meaning that they do not have to work under the supervision of a doctor. In the Pennsylvania, however, while CRNPs still have more authority than RNs, they must have a medical doctor sign on certain patient care decisions.

Nurse practitioners are increasingly becoming integral to medical teams as more and more hospitals and healthcare facilities are utilizing their expertise. Their experience as working nurses gives them a unique approach to patient care, while their advanced studies qualify them to take on additional duties that are usually left to physicians.

There are many different ways CRNP are exposed to practicing outside the scope of their practice.  Dispensing medications incorrectly or without a prescription is the first and foremost.  CRNPs are especially vulnerable to disciplinary action as they hold prescriptive authority to dispense Schedule II and other non-scheduled medications.  This blog will address CRNP’s legal duties.

CRNP’s must collaborate with a physician who holds a current license to practice in the Commonwealth.  When acting in collaboration with a physician in a “collaborative agreement” within the CRNP‘s specialty, the CRNP may perform comprehensive assessments of patients and establish medical diagnosis, perform and supervise diagnostic tests, institute referrals, develop treatment plans, establish prescriptive authority approvals for pharmaceutical treatments, complete admission and discharge summary’s, and order various supplemental therapeutic medical care. Supplemental medical care includes dietary plans, home health care and hospice, durable medical equipment, physical therapy and dietitian referrals, respiratory and occupational therapy referrals, and perform initial assessments of methadone treatment evaluations.

Methadone treatment and evaluations can be accomplished in conjunction with approval of a physician in the Pennsylvania methadone treatment regulations.  In this time of opioid crisis, CRNP’s prescribing methadone is a huge issue. CRNPs have sought clarification of their authority and qualifications to prescribe Suboxone.  63 PS § 21.283(c) of the Pennsylvania Code sets forth CRNP’s prescriptive authority.


Every two years CRNP must complete 16 hours of board approved CE credits in pharmacology.  Initially, CRNPs require 45 hours of coursework specific to advanced pharmacology through the a professional nurse education program within five years before initial prescriptive authority approval. Board prescribing and dispensing schedule II restrictions include only 30-day supply authorizations and only in conjunction with a collaborative agreement setting forth such authorization by the physician in the agreement.

CRNP are limited to prescribing 90-day supplies of schedule III and IV controlled substances, which physician based authority is identified in the collaborative agreement. CRNP may not delegate prescriptive authority to other RNs working in the practice. CRNPs may not issue pre-signed prescriptions, must receive a national provider identifier number, and all prescriptions must include the CRNP’s name, title, and Pennsylvania CRNP certification number.  All labeling, packaging, dispensing, administering, and prescribing must be done in compliance with all other federal and state regulations and Pennsylvania Department of Health chapter 28 code of regulations.

CRNPs must register with the DEA and follow DEA minimum standards when prescribing, administering or dispensing controlled substances.  DEA federal regulations require the CRNP to properly conduct and documents their initial evaluation, physical examination, receipt and review the patient’s medical and medication history.  The physical evaluation includes examining the heart, lungs, vital signs, pain level, and body functions that relate to the patient specific complaint. Re-evaluation‘s and follow up should follow accordingly.

Patient counseling and medical records review are warranted to properly document symptoms observed and reported, diagnosis of any condition for which the controlled substance is being given, and the directions for administration. If the CRNP continues to prescribe the controlled substance, medical records must reflect changes to symptoms observed and reported and modification, alteration, or a limitation of any diagnosis of the condition for which the controlled substance is being given and the directions given to the patient.

The CRNP may dispense emergency, short-term prescriptions in conjunction with examination, evaluation, and proper diagnosis if such is then documented in the patient’s medical record.  Any emergency prescription must be delivered to the pharmacist within three days, and the emergency prescription may not be refilled or issued consecutive to an emergency prescription unless there is a follow-up physical examination.

Compliance with the terms and conditions of CRNP prescriptive authority is not necessarily compliance with Nursing Board scope of practice or standards that are acceptable and the prevailing practice.  Compliance with the above PA Code minimum standards does not restrict Nursing Board disciplinary action CRNPs based upon violations of the Drug Act or any other nursing licensing regulation.

Federal and State Drug Act issues address improper prescription dispensing, improper charting, failing to chart, or performing medical malpractice in the course of acting outside the scope as a CRNP.   Mere compliance with PA Code rudimentary medical practice and charting responsibilities and basic medical care giving duties does not shield the CRNPs from scope of practice and other claims.

CRNP scope of practice is governed by the collaborative agreement by and between the supervising physician and CRNP along with any large scale institutional employment job position limitations. Improperly administering medications earlier than the time set forth in a prescription and refilling daily, weekly, or 30 day prescriptions will well necessary trigger employment or board based disciplinary issues.

This is why the prescriptive authority established in the collaborative agreement between a physician and a CRNP  must satisfy very specific requirements. The collaborative agreements must be in writing, identifying the category of drugs this specific CRNP is allowed to prescribe as per their certified practice.   The collaborating physician obviously must sign the agreement and a copy must be submitted to the Bureau Professional and Occupational Affairs.

The agreement must be updated every two years, or whenever the agreement is changed, and must identify the professional liability insurance limits the physician’s policy provides.  Anytime the prescriptive authority in the collaborative agreement is updated or terminated, the CRNP (and no one else) shall notify the Board in writing of such changes. The CRNP is allowed to advertise or publicly display sign identifying their participation in a medical practice. A licensed CRNP may include such nomenclature after their name on any letterhead, business cards, and practice advertising.

CRNP must undertake and only engage in their specific practice area and only perform procedures in which they have necessary knowledge, preparation, experience and competency to properly execute.  CRNP practice is limited in scope to only their specialty and consistent with their CRNP collaborative agreement. This is the scope of practice provision that allows for the allegation CRNP prescribing medication drugs or other items outside the scope of their practice.

Certification as a CRNP may be suspended, revoked, or otherwise subjected to remedial measures when, after notice of and an opportunity for a hearing, the board finds that a CRNP has engaged and performed medical functions and tasks beyond the scope of practice permitted for a CRNP, that CRNP specially, or in violation of the collaborative agreement.  This is the general, catchall provision, for a potential penalty, based upon the allegation that a CRNP performed a medical function for which the CRNP does not have the necessary knowledge, preparation, experience and competency to perform properly or is not qualified under the CRNP Act.

Call me to discuss your case.

PHMP versus RAMP: A Big Difference

I write blogs about Pennsylvania professional licensing legal developments.  I am also licensed to practice law in New Jersey. I routinely counsel Pennsylvania professionals concerned about their NJ licenses.  There is a huge difference between Pennsylvania’s PHMP and New Jersey’s RAMP (“Recovery and Monitoring Program “).  RAMP was established in 2003 as an Alternative to Discipline program, managed by the Institute for Nursing for the New Jersey Board of Nursing. http://njsna.org/ramp/

Pennsylvania medical professionals who live in New Jersey or Pennsylvania residents also licensed in NJ, but only use their PA  licenses, are exposed to RAMP.  (Obviously also are NJ licensees working in NJ.)  Any Pennsylvania medical professional, who is also licensed in NJ – who receives Pennsylvania PHMP letter – must consider how RAMP will respond if Pennsylvania restricts their professional license.  Any Pennsylvania disciplinary action based upon an alleged impairment of alcohol and drugs will come to NJ’s RAMP attention. Also, NJ licensees must carefully respond to RAMP communications.

A recent NJ appellate case reveals just how different RAMP is from Pennsylvania’s PHMP.  On November 16, 2017 a New Jersey appellate court decided In The Matter of the license of Kevin Rafferty, RN.  He was a certified registered nurse anesthetist and an Advanced Practice Nurse.  Mr. McCafferty‘s licensing problems began in 2013 when three co-workers smelled alcohol on his breath during work.  They levied anonymous complaints to the Nursing Board, which contacted RAMP. This was the only evidence against him.

RAMP contacted  Rafferty via letter, setting forth the allegations that he may have problems related to mental health and or substance-abuse that could affect his ability to practice his profession.  RAMP offered him a private letter agreement and enrollment for a minimum of 90 days.  During this time RAMP requires random observed drug tests, monthly self evaluation reports, and regular attendance in peer support meetings.  Post-enrollment, RAMP then requires an initial intake evaluation.  In my experience this evaluation typically  finds the professional needs to be in RAMP for 12 months.  The 90-day initial RAMP invite is a fraud!

It is this context (which the McCaffrey case reveals)  that RAMP’s enrollment process is distinctly different from Pennsylvania’s PHMP.  RAMP’s initial letter of invite is not really an offer, but an order to each licensee.  PHMP’s initial “Letter of Concern” is a non-mandatory offer for help and does not constitute a demand to enroll.

RAMP’s initial 90-day evaluation period is not based upon a medical expert assessment or determination the licensee suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction that renders them an impaired professional. That assessment comes only after RAMP enrollment and signing of the RAMP 90-day contract.  The licensee is then stuck.

The RAMP evaluation takes place after enrollment, when the agreement sign requires compliance with the terms and condition of the program.  Licensee thinking they are just going to get the 90 days meet the expert, who determines more time in RAMP is required. Now they are stuck and can’t break the agreement.

PHMP’s letter of concern offers an assessment and voluntary disclosure to determine in an impairment exists.   PHMP requires either a finding of an impairment or a voluntary admission of such before enrollment in the program.  Pennsylvania Voluntary Recovery Program (“VRP”) questionnaire includes a provision that the licensee admit to suffering from an impairment.  This is the voluntary admission part of the VRP contract.  I counsel against signing this agreement.  NEVER ADMIT you are an impaired professional.Wait for the Board to file a formal petition to Compel and Mental and Physical Evaluation.  (See my other blogs.)

McCaffrey did not respond the the initial 90 day RAMP letter.  He was determined to be “non-compliant“ with RAMP.  RAMP notified the Nursing Board that “it could not insure the board or the public that McCaffrey was safe to practice.”  The Board subpoenaed McCaffrey to appear before a committee of the Board to answer questions about  appearing at work smelling of alcohol.  McCaffrey appeared, denied the allegations, and brought numerous letters of reference.  The Board still concluded he should enroll in RAMP and proposed a 2nd private letter agreement requiring McCaffery participate.  He refused.

The Board issued a provisional order of discipline compelling McCaffrey to submit to an evaluation and monitoring to determine whether his continued practice may jeopardize the safety and welfare of the public.  This is a distinct different legal standard and burden of proof compared to Pennsylvania’s impairment burden of proof.

NJ’s licensing boards and Courts have long recognized a “community care-taking responsibility” as legal justification that allows government license restriction.  The NJ Nursing Board thereafter issued a final order compelling McCaffrey to enroll in RAMP. The Board determined such was required to satisfy its “mandate to protect the public.” McCaffrey‘s failure to comply with this final order was reported to the national practitioner data Bank. Still no medical determination of any impairment!

McCaffery appealed claiming there was no medical or legal basis to compel RAMP and that absent such, a general order requiring such denied him due process of law.   The appellate court reviewed McCaffrey’s objections to the Board’s order. The appellate court determined the Board maintains oversight over professional licensing for nurses pursuant to the Nursing Law.  Because the New Jersey professional nursing law requires an applicant not be a “habitual user of drugs and alcohol”, McCaffrey‘s potential for alcohol and drug abuse rendered him suspect of meeting the legal requirements of both the Nursing Licensing and Nurse Anesthetist laws.  The court found the Board had the authority even absent a medical conclusion of any impairment.

McCaffrey complained that absent an expert determination that he was impaired or suffered from a chemical dependency, he met the requirements for licensure.  The Board rejected this argument. The court determined the Nursing Board was within its statutory authority based upon the factual allegations, even without even an expert evaluation, that the Board was within its authority to compel McCaffrey to participate in the 90 day private letter RAMP program.  The decision was handed down in 2017.  McCaffrey’s work place situation occurred in 2013.

For the many licenses that practice in Pennsylvania, these procedural differences between the PHMP and RAMP are significant and should be respected. Pennsylvania’s regulatory and statutory framework allow for licensee participation in and evaluation by a board chosen medical expert before mandatory enrollment in the PHMP.  NJ does not allow for this pre-enrollment evaluation, compels participation, and then subjects the licensee to a bait and switch disciplinary monitoring program.

Please call me to discuss either of these programs and any letters you receive from your licensing board.


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.


Living Life to the Fullest Every Day

I woke up this October morning thinking “What can I do on an overcast, somewhat drizzly, muggy,  fall Sunday morning?  Mountain bike riding with biking buddies Rob and Caleb couldn’t have been easier decision.  The complicated question was where to ride in southeastern Pennsylvania.

We – six of us usually – have ridden (and gotten hurt and broke bikes) on multiple trails throughout Valley Forge State Park, Marsh Creek State Park, and the Green Lane Park and Reservoir.  Our local favorite, however challenging, was calling our names this morning. The pictures below do little justice to the beautiful, rugged, stream-studded creek gorge of Philadelphia’s 1800 acre Wissahickon Valley Park.

Starting out with wonderful hot coffee at Caleb’s house on near Elbow Lane, just east of McCallum, we dropped in near Climber’s Rock, riding the eastern side down to Rittenhouse.  From there, Forbidden Drive and the Blue Stone Bridge carried us over the creek and into the heart of the trails.  The three of us, lead by local favorite jeweler Caleb Meyer, climbed the western side near Kitchens – on the yellow trail – for over 8 miles of switch backs, hilly rollers, large rocks and steep inclines. Ever cautious and hoping not to get hurt, we made our way through this fabulous Sunday morning ride.

At Bell’s Mills and then Northwestern we saw the horses, forcing us to reckon with our approaching return trip home.  We crossed back over at Dewees Rock and Germantown Pike.  On this last 1/4 of the ride, worn and beaten down, we stopped several times to savor the scenery.  Waterfalls, covered bridges, and my favorite, the Lenape Chief Tedyuscung Statue.

The Indian Chief is always the highlight of my Wissahickon ride.  It is a challenge to get there, a joy to see, and a true testament to what hard work can achieve.  Leaving the Lenape Indian Chief behind, we headed east, picking our way back to Climbers Rock and Livesy Lane.  I have not ridden this part of the trial.  Each pedal stroke after 150 minutes in the saddle felt great, but exhausting.

We were finishing the last up hill climb to Elbow Lane, looking forward to some fine October-fest libation, when we suffered our first and only casualty of the ride.  Rob’s rear tire exploded with a hiss of exhaustion.  The brief walk out could not dampen our spirits or take the air out our awesome Sunday morning ride.  Thanks guys!  13.4 miles and 1500 elevation, 2.5 hours.

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.

My County Practice – The Licensee Attorney on the Road

It is a cool, crisp 78° as I gander at the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Blue Mountain and Kittatinny tunnels cutting through the middle of Pennsylvania. It’s 95° and 100% humidity in Philadelphia. The Blue Mountain Tunnel is one of two tunnels through Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania, located west of Newburg. It is one of seven tunnels completed for the Pennsylvania Turnpike mainline, … The Blue Mountain Tunnel is 600 ft (180 m) to the east of the Kittatinny Mountain Tunnel, separated by the Gunter Valley.

As I drive through these Pennsylvania mountains, including the tunnel at Tuscarora Mountain, I marvel at Pennsylvania’s endless greenery. Towns such as McCalloch, Lynnsburg, Sheepskin Hollow, and Mount Union dot the landscape but are surrounded by majestic trees and forests..

On Route 99 I snake through the mountain passes of Blair County. Smoke screened with early morning fog, panoramic views give way to county towns spread along the Juanita and Little Juanita River valley. Route 99 was carved out of the Lock Mountain. Its rolling hills provide necessary access to the historic railroad town of Holidaysburg. Local roads are named after long since passed farm owners who settled this area. Canoeing ramps, hiking and biking trails shunt off from the many state park.

Driving up Bald Mountain, through Phillipsburg, I left Tyrone behind. I scamper up Bald Mountain, through the pass, on the way to Clearfield County. Route 350 welcomes me with Victorian style homes. Phillipsburg is a brief one  light hamlet. Leaving Phillipsburg, I approach the Upper Susquehanna River and Clearfield Creek. Here the rolling mountains roads are dotted with roadside homes, businesses, and flow slowed by summer road construction.

Arriving in Clearfield County I am surprised by the size of the borough. I am taken aback at the age of the courthouse. Pictured below, its courthouse is regal, sturdy and welcoming.





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