Veterinary License Defense Attorneys
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Becoming a licensed veterinarian in the state of Texas requires years of hard work and a true calling to care for animals.
As expected for such a demanding profession, complaints and allegations of misconduct are taken very seriously by the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. If you have been notified of an active investigation or believe your veterinarian license is at risk, contact the experienced veterinary license defense attorneys of McDonald, Mackay, Porter & Weitz, LLP.
About the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
The Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is the regulatory agency tasked with regulating the practice of veterinary medicine in the state of Texas. The agency has a reputation for aggressively pursuing investigations and imposing stern disciplinary sanctions.
Some common issues that can lead to an investigation and possible disciplinary action under the Veterinary Licensing Act (Texas Occupations Code Chapter 801) include:
- Chemical dependency or substance abuse
- Participating in the fraudulent or illegal practice of veterinary medicine
- Being convicted of a felony
- Prescribing or performing unnecessary treatment
- Committing gross malpractice or engaging in a pattern of negligence
- Knowingly failing to report a disease to the Texas Animal Health Commission
- Failing to maintain proper records.
The Board strives for moving investigations along quickly and is not averse to taking matters to State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to impose sanctions that the Board deems necessary. Make sure that you have a knowledgeable veterinary license defense attorney by your side to help you navigate the waters during this complex and intimidating process.
Investigations, Hearings & Possible Disciplinary Action
An allegation of professional misconduct can come from any number of sources, such as a disgruntled employee or former employee, a colleague or competitor, an animal’s owner or caretaker, or law enforcement agencies. When a complaint is made against a licensed veterinarian, 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 veterinarian of the opportunity to respond to the allegations by a specified date and the right to be represented by a veterinary 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 medical records, medication logs, witness statements, and other information related to the case. In some instances, the Board investigator will visit the veterinarian’s practice location. Once the veterinarian 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 dismissed, or the case 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 representatives of the Veterinary Medical Examiners Board who ask questions of the veterinarian. The veterinarian and their selected professional license defense attorneys 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 veterinarian, their counsel, and the agency presenting attorney. The veterinarian 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 veterinarian 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 veterinary 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 veterinarian 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 veterinarian’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 veterinarian agrees to the proposed Agreed Order, the veterinarian 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 veterinarian and to the veterinarian’s 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 veterinarian’s history. Even when the stipulations of an order are completed and the veterinarian’s license becomes “clear,” the veterinarian 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 Texas Veterinarian License Defense Lawyer Can Help
An experienced Texas medical license defense attorney can help at every stage of the agency proceedings. During the early investigation stages, a veterinary license defense attorney can help gather supporting evidence and in the drafting of persuasive responses to the Board. A licensure 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, an attorney’s litigation skills will be invaluable.
To get the help you need, contact McDonald, Mackay, Porter & Weitz, LLP.