You check your office’s mailbox one day, and your heart skips a beat as you read the return address on one of the envelopes; it’s the state agency responsible for overseeing your professional licensing. Your heart sinks as you hurriedly read through the introductory paragraph. It’s clear, now: you, as a professional, are under investigation.
On top of potential criminal penalties, your thoughts go to your livelihood. It’s already tough financially for you and your professional company; what if you lose your income? These are scary thoughts, but our firm is here to help give you guidance and explain what happens next.
If you receive a letter that you are merely the subject of an investigation, you should speak to your attorney right away (we would be honored to help). The investigating agency may call you for an interview, but there is generally no statute of limitations unless you receive a notification that a formal complaint has been lodged against you. If you receive a complaint, you have a limited amount of time to respond to it by filling out the Election of Rights form. The time varies based on your profession; to give you an idea of the timeline, health care professionals generally have 21 days to respond.
Under Chapter 120 of the Florida Statutes, professional licensees who are dealing with an administrative complaint have two options (unless you settle with the agency): a formal hearing or an informal hearing. There are a few extremely important distinctions between these two hearings: a formal hearing allows you, as a professional licensee, to contest material facts alleged in the formal complaint.
On the other hand, an informal hearing allows the licensee to only dispute the potential outcome of the proceedings. Another way to put this is that the licensee has accepted the findings of the department’s investigation and is only seeking to present mitigating factors to lessen the outcome of the process. This is analogous to a criminal defendant pleading nolo contendere in the hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.
The formal hearing after an administrative complaint is, essentially, a trial with an administrative law judge acting as the jury. This hearing occurs independently of the agency that oversees your professional licensing. At the formal hearing, you and your attorney will have the opportunity to call witnesses and experts, cross-examine the other side’s witnesses, and make other appropriate arguments. After all hearings have concluded and the administrative law judge issues his or her recommendation, the agency will issue its order.
The sooner you call an experienced and knowledgeable attorney for your administrative complaint and hearing proceedings, the better. There are numerous steps in the process not contained in this general post, and your attorney will know how best to take advantage of every opportunity to preserve your livelihood.
Attorney Barry M. Wax has decades of experience helping licensed professionals fight bogus complaints and minimize penalties from state agencies. If you are in this situation, you don’t have a moment to waste. Call our firm to get started with a free initial consultation with our team.