Licensed Professional Counselor License Defense Attorneys
Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) undergo considerable education and training, dedicating their professional lives to helping others.
If you are a member of this profession, you are probably driven by a desire to affect real and significant changes in peoples’ lives, but good intentions and a history of compliance with the law do not make you immune from allegations of misconduct or incompetence. To defend your professional reputation and the status of the license you depend on, reach out to the skilled LPC defense attorneys at McDonald, Mackay, Porter & Weitz, LLP.
With decades of experience protecting the rights of licensed professionals across Texas, we know what you are up against, what it takes to mount a defense, and how to achieve the best possible results. Contact us today for an initial consultation.
About the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors
Licensed Professional Counselors throughout the state are governed by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors (Board). This agency exists within the Texas Department of Health with a mandate to protect the public’s health and well-being. Allegations of misconduct are persistently investigated and resulting disciplinary actions can be severe.
Complaints and claims of impropriety can come from several sources. Some of the most common reasons Licensed Professional Counselors face action include:
- Inappropriate relationships with clients
- Concerns regarding the counselor’s role in custody and/or divorce proceedings
- Deceptive or misleading advertising
- Breaching confidentiality
- Failing to maintain accurate records
- Inaccurate billing
- Insurance or Medicaid fraud
- Being convicted of a criminal offense
- Failure to report the abuse of minors
- Other unprofessional or unethical behavior
If the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors determines that a complaint against you is valid, you could be subjected to penalties ranging from a fine or a reprimand to suspension or even revocation. There may also be a long-lasting impact on your practice because disciplinary records are typically a matter of public record and will remain part of a licensee’s permanent file long after any agreed upon conditions have been met or the dust from litigation has settled. Consequently, it is crucial to understand the Board’s specific role and the process that a Licensed Professional Counselor undergoes if under investigation.
Investigation Process & Possible Discipline
If a credible claim of misconduct or incompetence is received by the Board, the investigation starts with notification by mail, unless doing so would jeopardize the investigation. In some instances, the Board will “fast track” a case that involves allegations of sexual misconduct or imminent harm to a patient. This initial letter is meant to put the target of the investigation on notice, provide an opportunity to respond, and inform them that they can be represented by a Texas professional license defense attorney. The Board will often provide a copy of the complaint to the licensee. Licensees usually run into difficulty at this stage because the Board typically demands a response with any supporting evidence in a short period of time. A well-crafted and thorough response can sometimes mean the difference between a quick resolution or a prolonged and challenging legal matter. A poorly drafted initial communication to the Board can adversely impact the entire case.
Once assigned, the Board’s investigator will request various records related to the allegations, such as counseling records, witness statements, billing records, and other pertinent information. Occasionally, the Board investigator will even go to the licensee’s practice. Once the counselor or their legal representative has responded and the investigator has obtained all of the relevant information, the investigator will make a recommendation regarding the allegations and what the evidence has shown. This and any underlying information are presented to the Board and a determination is made regarding a recommended disposition of the case. At this point, the case may be dismissed or set for a meeting with members of the Board. An LPC needs credible legal advice and defense throughout this case review. Possible developments include the following:
After the investigation, the Licensed Professional Counselor may be invited to attend the Complaints Committee. This meeting is a public one to which the complainant is also invited. Either side may speak and the Committee may ask questions. The Committee reviews the information presented to it by the parties and agency staff. The Committee may vote to close the matter or may offer an Agreed Order to resolve the case. An LPC license defense attorney can help the LPC prepare for this meeting and can be present at the meeting to assist and support the LPC with explaining their side of the case.
An Agreed Order is a proposed settlement agreement, which will state the allegations against the licensee, the sections of the law or policy that have been violated, and any restrictions or conditions imposed. The conditions or restrictions may include educational courses to complete, job limitations, a monetary fine, supervision requirements, counseling conditions, practice restrictions, and other actions considered necessary under the particular circumstances. The related negotiation process could also result in an offer to suspend, surrender or even revoke a license.
Once an Agreed Order is ratified by the full board, it is entered on the Board’s website and reported in the agency newsletter. It is also reported to regulatory data banks. All disciplinary actions are public information and become a permanent part of the Licensed Professional Counselor’s record. Even when the stipulations are fulfilled and the license becomes “clear,” the licensee will always have a public history of the action including the basis for it. Because the disciplinary order is a public document and it is permanently attached to the LPC’s license, it is critical for the LPC to have a competent health license defense attorney to fight for the best resolution to the case.
Informal Settlement Conference
Informal Settlement Conference/Show Compliance Hearing (ISC) means a meeting between the LPC and Board members and Board staff. The ISC is a closed meeting; however, the complainant is given the chance to be present and speak. It can be intimidating appearing before so many individuals. It can also be difficult for an LPC on their own to adequately present their explanation in a clear and appropriate manner.
At the ISC, the allegations and available evidence are presented to Board members who may ask follow-up questions. The licensee and their Texas license defense attorney can provide evidence and other explanatory information for the members to review. After all of the available information is presented, the Board members convene privately to discuss the case and then announce their decision in the form of a recommendation. The Board’s recommendation can be a dismissal, a proposed Agreed Order, or to have the case referred to a formal public hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH)
Sometimes a case cannot be resolved by an Agreed Order and the agency may refer the case for a hearing. A licensee who is unable to resolve their case has the right to contest the allegations and have the agency prove them through the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). SOAH is a neutral third party agency. The contested case hearing is similar to a trial but it is held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) instead of a typical judge or jury. Some of the pre-hearing discovery, evidentiary, and procedural rules are different than in a civil or criminal court case, which requires a knowledgeable administrative attorney to navigate the process with the LPC. After the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will issue their Proposal for Decision (PFD), which the Board may either accept, modify, or reject. The recommendations may be for a total dismissal of the allegations, proposed restrictions on the Licensed Professional Counselor’s license, a suspension of the license, or a revocation. If the licensee disagrees with the outcome, they need to take prompt action to file a motion for rehearing and a possible court appeal. An appeal is usually only available after all other administrative remedies have been exhausted, and an appeal can be a costly and burdensome endeavor. It is best accomplished with help from a skilled litigator.
What Can a LPC Defense Attorney Do to Help?
If you are a Licensed Professional Counselor accused of misconduct or violating the rules of your profession, you will face a complicated and demanding process that few are equipped to deal with on their own. The Board has attorneys to advise them and in order to protect what you have worked so hard for, you should also have legal advice from a trusted license defense lawyer. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, you are most likely aware it is best to seek guidance from someone with specialized training and experience when faced with a situation that is unfamiliar or outside the scope of your skill set.
Our decades of involvement with various Texas licensing boards provides us with unique insight into how the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors approaches cases. We offer practical advice and solutions for defending your license.
Contact us today to schedule a one-on-one consultation.