Psychologist License Defense Attorneys
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Becoming a psychologist in Texas takes dedication and a sincere desire to help others with a wide variety of problems. Unfortunately, given the nature of the care provided, misunderstandings can occur and false allegations are all too common.
If claims of professional misconduct have triggered an investigation into your practice, it is well-advised to take the allegations seriously and confer with an attorney familiar with medical license defense.
At McDonald, Mackay, Porter & Weitz, LLP, our firm is dedicated to protecting the licenses of Texas healthcare providers and helping licensees navigate the difficult process surrounding a complaint to their licensing board.
About the Texas Board of Examiners of Psychology
The Texas Board of Examiners of Psychology is responsible for regulating psychologists in Texas. The Board is tasked with ensuring its licensees conduct themselves professionally and comply with applicable standards of care. Much of their work is accomplished through the investigation of complaints and imposition of disciplinary actions or remedial measures.
Complaints regarding misconduct come from various sources, but some of the most common types of issues that may trigger an investigation by the Board involve:
- Inappropriate relationships with clients
- Fraudulent claims or advertising practices
- Substance abuse issues
- Inaccurate or falsified billing practices
- Being convicted of a felony or other serious criminal offense
- Negligent patient care or failing to adhere to other ethical standards
Investigations, Hearings & Actions Against Your License
An allegation of professional misconduct can come from any number of sources, such as a disgruntled employee or former employee, a colleague or competitor, a patient or family member, an insurance company, or a law enforcement agency. When a complaint is made against a licensee, the Board will usually notify the subject of their investigation by mail unless doing so would jeopardize the Board’s investigation. This letter informs the licensee of the opportunity to respond to the allegations by a specified date and the right to be represented by a professional license defense attorney. This initial response is one of the most critical stages of the investigation. It sets the tone and establishes a body of evidence for much of the process to follow.
The Board’s investigator will typically request various records pertaining to the allegations, such as treatment records, bills, witness statements, and other information related to the case. In some instances, the Board investigator will visit the licensee’s practice location. Once the psychologist has responded and the investigator has obtained all pertinent information available, the investigator makes a recommendation regarding the allegations and what the evidence demonstrates. The information obtained by the investigator is presented to senior staff and a decision is made regarding the disposition of the case. The case may be routed for dismissal or it may be set for an Informal Conference.
If the investigation progresses to an “Informal” Conference, it is important to remember that while it is less formal than a contested hearing, it is not entirely informal. The “informal” adjective simply means that the usual court and hearing rules regarding procedures and admission of evidence do not apply. At the Informal Conference held in Austin, the allegations and evidence are presented to board representatives who ask questions of the licensee. The licensee and their selected licensed psychologist defense attorney may also provide evidence and other mitigating information for the members to consider.
After the information is presented and questions are asked and answered, the agency representatives confer outside the presence of the licensee, their counsel, and the agency presenting attorney. The licensee is then called back into the meeting room and the Board representatives present their decision in the form of recommended actions or a proposed Agreed Order. The licensee usually knows the recommendation of the Board representatives prior to leaving the Board’s offices. The recommendation can be a dismissal if no action is warranted or a proposed Agreed Order if a violation is found. It can also be recommended that the case can be referred directly to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
If the evidence shows a violation of the law, the Board may recommend a settlement offer in the form of a proposed Agreed Order. An Agreed Order can be further negotiated between the parties involved. An experienced psychologist license defense attorney can be useful in crafting appropriate language and achieving the best possible resolution. The Agreed Order will state the allegations against the licensee in question, the law that has been violated, and the restrictions being placed on the individual’s license or other sanctions being imposed. The proposed order may include educational courses, practice restrictions, fines, employer notifications, supervision requirements, counseling requirements, conditions for continued licensure, and other actions deemed necessary. If there are any mitigating factors in the licensee’s favor, the severity of the restrictions may be decreased. The length of the Agreed Order can also vary, depending on the circumstances.
If the licensee agrees to the proposed Agreed Order, the licensee signs the order and it is presented to the Board for ratification. The Board may either ratify the Order as presented, approve it with changes, or reject it entirely. If the Order is accepted by the Board, a final copy of the signed Order is mailed to the licensee and to the licensed psychologist’s defense attorney. The disciplinary action is entered on the Board’s website and reported in the quarterly newsletter. The Board’s disciplinary actions are public information and become a permanent part of the licensee’s history. Even when the stipulations of an order are completed and the license becomes “clear,” the psychologist will still have a permanent disciplinary record.
If the case is not resolved at an earlier stage of the process, it will be transferred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). Discovery is initiated much like in a malpractice suit or other civil litigation to include depositions, interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions, and requests for disclosures. While there is the possibility of being fined, and assessed hearing costs, the case is more about whether the licensee violated the law, their ability to continue to practice, and, if so, under what terms and conditions. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is assigned and the proceeding is like a bench trial without a jury. Witnesses are called to testify, records are put into evidence, and legal arguments are made. After the hearing, the ALJ will issue a Proposal for Decision (PFD) analyzing the evidence and recommending a decision to the TMB. The parties may exchange additional pleadings advocating their respective positions after receiving the PFD.
The Board will then hold a hearing and counsel for both sides will be allowed short oral argument. The Board either votes to adopt the PFD, adopt a proposal from one of the parties, adopt something different of their own creation, dismiss the case, or appeal some aspect of the PFD to district court. If a disciplinary order is issued, the licensee has a very short time to file a motion for rehearing to exhaust administrative remedies and preserve the right to appeal to district court. If the motion for rehearing is granted, the case is reconsidered by the Board at the PFD presentation level and another appealable decision is rendered. If a motion for rehearing is denied, the licensee must act quickly to timely file an appeal in district court. During the appeal, the licensee usually remains subject to the imposed disciplinary action until the appeal is final.
It is possible to resolve a SOAH case through SOAH mediation rather than going through the contested process. Mediation usually occurs very early in the SOAH process.
A Psychologist License Defense Lawyer Can Help
An experienced professional license defense attorney can help at every stage of the agency proceedings. During the early investigation stages, an attorney can help gather supporting evidence and in the drafting of persuasive responses to the Board. A licensed psychologist defense attorney can also help prepare for an informal conference and advocate on the licensee’s behalf at the conference. If an agreed resolution is possible, an attorney can frequently negotiate the best possible terms. If a contested hearing is unavoidable, our attorneys litigation skills will be invaluable.
To get the help you need, contact McDonald, Mackay, Porter & Weitz, LLP.