In 2010, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Physician Health Program (PHP), effectively shifting the oversight of licensed Texas physicians with substance abuse disorders and mental illness from the Texas Medical Board to a program uniquely tailored to monitor those issues. Responsible in part for the success of this idea is the sentiment that physicians generally do not like dealing with the Medical Board, and are not keen on self-reporting substance abuse issues to the Medical Board or being candid about mental health problems. The PHP, while not entirely independent from the Medical Board (PHP is administratively linked to the TMB), was intended to provide a more attractive option for those physicians who needed the oversight and the help that PHP would provide. In the 2+ years since its creation, the PHP has largely been successful, and certainly is still preferable to the Medical Board’s investigative and disciplinary process in many instances. However, there are certain types of “substance-related” cases in which a referral to the PHP is not appropriate, and a physician would be better served to hire an experienced professional license defense attorney and take the case to the Medical Board, seeking dismissal. Simply put, a one-time arrest and conviction for DWI or Public Intoxication does not justify a long-term PHP contract aimed at facilitating recovery.
The PHP is not typically appropriate in instances where the physician has had a one-time substance-related arrest, but no substance abuse diagnosis. However, we frequently encounter physicians who have been arrested for one-time instances of DWI or public intoxication and are subsequently offered participation in the PHP in lieu of Medical Board action. Oftentimes, the offer of PHP contract will have been given before the DWI case is even criminally adjudicated. For a physician that does not seek the proper legal guidance, that one-time DWI arrest will result in a 5-year PHP contract, where the physician is subjected to terms that likely include substance abuse treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous attendance, drug screening, and possibly practice restrictions. While a confidential PHP contract that offers that level of structure is probably appropriate for a physician with a diagnosed substance use disorder, it is not appropriate for the physician who made a highly regrettable, one-time decision to drink and drive. Additionally, it is very difficult for anyone to stay compliant with a 5-year PHP contract when there is no actual substance abuse disorder- the terms of the order start to look very arbitrary. Moreover, there will be lifelong consequences with credentialing and applications for privileges.
The alternative to a PHP contract is the perceived threat that the physician’s case will be forwarded to the Medical Board for investigation and possible disciplinary action. Contrary to common misperceptions, that is often the preferable scenario in this instance. The Medical Board does not have the power to discipline a physician for a one-time arrest and conviction of DWI, and as long as that DWI does not lead to evidence that the physician may have a substance abuse problem, the Medical Board must dismiss the case (Tex. Occ. Code § 164.051(a)(2)). The physician will probably be investigated and invited to participate in an Informal Settlement Conference with the TMB, but an experienced administrative law attorney should be able to guide them through the process without receipt of any discipline. The professional license defense attorneys of the Leichter Law Firm have been very successful in getting these cases dismissed.
If you are a physician, physician assistant, or other licensee of the Texas Medical Board, and you have been offered a PHP participation contract in response to a one-time substance-related arrest, do not hesitate to contact the experienced administrative law attorneys of the Leichter Law Firm. Even if you have not yet been contacted by the TMB or the PHP regarding your substance-related arrest, it is advisable to contact us at 512-495-9995 for a free consultation.
Physicians that treat chronic pain patients or prescribe a large volume of narcotic pain medications ought to be increasingly aware of the pressure that is being exerted by the Texas Medical Board, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and their multi-agency task force. We have drawn attention to the crackdown on alleged “pill mills” and alleged non-therapeutic prescribing on this very blog. Likewise, we have previously highlighted the pain clinic legislation that allows the Medical Board to monitor those practices more closely (see Occ. Code Sec. 167 and Board Rules Sec. 195). The physicians who have been found in violation of these laws, have felt the negative impact on their ability to practice- loss of their DEA controlled substance certification, restrictions on their practice, and/or revocation of their medical license. In fact, our attorneys have successfully represented many physicians, as well as other health care professionals, who have been targeted as part of this combined state and federal initiative.
More recently, the State of Texas has started charging these same physicians criminally, meaning potential felony convictions and lengthy prison sentences. The State’s legal theory is that Texas Occupations Code sec. 165.152 allows them to charge these violations of the Medical Practice Act (Act) as a third degree Felony. The most troubling implication of the State’s legal theory, however, is that if it is accurate Texas prosecutors could conceivably bring felony charges for any violation of the Medical Practice Act, no matter how insignificant. The State’s legal argument has not yet been challenged in court, but we believe that it does not hold up upon review of the statutes.
It might help to set up a quick factual scenario similar to those we have seen recently. A physician takes a position with a clinic, whose clientele are at least 50% chronic pain patients. In order to comply with Occupations Code Sec. 167, the clinic must obtain a pain clinic certification from the Texas Medical Board. The physician applies for and receives the pain clinic certification. However, according to Board rule 195.2(a)(1), the certification can only be held by the clinic’s owner, and since this physician is not the owner of the clinic, he is in violation of the Act. If it correct that the criminal liability provisions of the Texas Medical Practice Act treat any violation of the Act as a felony criminal offense, then this physician could now be charged and prosecuted for a third degree felony by the State of Texas. In fact, this exact scenario is currently playing out in one Texas' largest metropolitan areas.
The State's belief that virtually any violation of the Texas Medical Practice Act can be classified as a felony is not borne out by a reading of the applicable statutes. Section 165 of the Act sets out the penalties for violations of the Act and Board rules. Criminal penalties for violations of the Act are set out in Subchapter D. There is a general criminal penalty statute (see Occ. Code Sec. 165.151) that states that any violation of the Act is a criminal offense, but if further states that if no penalty is specified, the offense constitutes a Class A misdemeanor. A thorough review of the pain clinic certification statute and rules do not specify a criminal penalty. It follows that, if the State wants to criminally charge that Texas physician for violating the Act, the only offense available is a Class a misdemeanor. Then how can the State charge a physician who violates the above statute with a third degree Felony?
The State has found their authority in the statute that directly follows, Occupations Code Sec. 166.152, which states that a person commits an offense if the person practices medicine in Texas in violation of this subtitle, and further states that the offense for such is a Felony of the third degree. If read out of the context, this statute would justify the State’s prosecution; the physician practiced in violation the Act and this offense constitutes a Felony. However, there are multiple problems with that reading of the statute, and the context and intent of the legislature do not support the State’s legal theory.
First, the offense that Occupations Code Sec. 166.152 has historically referred to is the practice of medicine without a license- not just any violation of the Act. Thus this section has traditionally been targeted against unlicensed individuals who hold themselves out as physicians. There is no precedent for the State’s broad reading of the statute, and it is clear that the Legislature never intended it to be read that way. Senate Bill 1303 that eventually became this statute even contained a preamble that read “An Act relating to the practice of medicine, including the rehabilitation of impaired physicians and the unlicensed practice of medicine; providing a penalty” (my italics). The reading of Sec. 166.152 in context makes it clear that the Legislature was not looking to make every violation a felony, but rather to criminalize the unauthorized, unlicensed practice of medicine.
Second, if Occupations Code Sec. 166.152 could be read to make any violation of the Act a third degree Felony, then any physician who fails to timely change their mailing address with the Board (Board rule 166.1(d)) or complete their 48 hours of continuing medical education every two years (Board rule 166.2) could be charged with a Felony for the violation. This ludicrous result underscores the States faulty legal theory. This absolutely could not be the Legislature’s intent when writing the statute, and of course we would argue that it was not.
Third, the context of Occupations Code Sec. 166.152 does not support the State’s reading. As I noted previously, there is a general criminal penalty statute directly preceding it, Section 166.151, which states that any violation of the Act constitutes a Class A misdemeanor if the penalty is not specified. If Section 166.152 could be read to broadly state that any violation of the Act is a third degree Felony, then the preceding statute 166.151 would be either contradictory or unnecessary.
In conclusion, the pending felony prosecutions under this legal theory are very problematic. If left unchallenged, they subject the defendant physicians to criminal penalties far more serious than restrictions on their medical practice. The possible implications of this development should seriously disturb any physician practicing in Texas. But, I believe that the State’s legal theory is weak and subject to challenge by attorneys who understand the Medical Practice Act and administrative law statutes the State is relying on. Unfortunately, a single case poorly argued could set a bad precedent for other districts. If you are a Texas physician who is facing discipline by the Texas Medical Board and related potential criminal prosecution, please contact the attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm for a consultation. 512-495-9995.
Criminal Prosecution of Pain Management Physicians by State and Federal Law Enforcement is on the Rise
There has been a recent and rapid rise in the number of physicians being prosecuted for the alleged non-therapeutic prescribing of controlled substances under both state and federal law. In the last week alone I have received numerous phone calls from a variety of medical and osteopathic doctors who had been arrested and/or indicted by the federal government or a local law enforcement branch after a joint investigation by a task force of state and federal agencies such as the Texas Medical Board (TMB), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a local sheriff’s and/or police office and the State Board of Pharmacy. These individuals are being charged by prosecuting attorneys in United States District Court (Federal Court) with crimes under the Federal Controlled Substances Act or in State Court for violations of the Health and Safety Code and the Medical Practice Act. In most cases the basic charge is the delivery of a prescription (to a patient and within the context of the physician’s medical practice) for a controlled substance without a valid therapeutic purpose. Many of the physicians I spoke with questioned why and how the government can substitute its’ clinical judgment for the physicians. Essentially this amounts to a physician being prosecuted and jailed for a standard of care based decision that was once a purely civil or administrative inquiry. My law practice has been handling these cases for years and over the last year the number of inquiries to our attorneys has increased tenfold suggesting the marked rise in government prosecutions is very real.
Oftentimes the Government relies on the sheer number of prescriptions written or the types / combinations of medications prescribed to make its’ case. It then utilizes experts to opine that a reasonable physician would not prescribe this combination of medications to this many patients and thus the treatment of patient X was non-therapeutic. This is a questionable way to go about proving a case, but it does not stop the Government from doing its investigation, arresting the doctor, forcing the surrender of their DEA issued controlled substances registration, initiating the inevitable discipline and loss of the physician’s medical license and the consequent destruction of their medical practice pending prosecution(s). While violations of the administrative rules surrounding the handling and use of prescriptive authority carry civil and administrative monetary provisions, violations of a state or federal statute mean confinement upon conviction and the inevitable loss of the physician’s career in medicine. For many physicians the result has been the very conservative treatment of patients and arguably the under treatment of both acute and chronic pain. I have thankfully yet to see the government pursue a case that involved palliative care.
At this time my case load in this area ranges from a state prosecution involving one patient to federal prosecutions involving hundreds. In all cases the physician’s best defense against the onslaught by the prosecuting attorneys is a well documented medical chart and a well founded reason / rationale for prescribing the medicines. In the cases where these factors are present the prosecution has been slow and labored suggesting the prosecuting attorneys are having trouble pursuing these cases. Moreover, oftentimes when these files have combined efforts between the Texas Medical Board and a criminal prosecuting entity, being cleared of medical mismanagement by the state medical board can be a decisive difference. Therefore, the aggressive defense by the physician on all fronts of attack by both professional licensing attorneys as well as criminal defense attorneys is suggested.
In the past year the Texas State Board of Pharmacy has started attempting to strictly enforce their recent amendments to the Board’s administrative rules related to punishment for criminal offenses. These rules prescribe certain standard disciplinary sanctions for a wide-ranging list of specific offenses. Pharmacists with either a criminal record or a pending criminal case should take note as the sanctions involved are generally quite severe and can include revocation of a licensee’s registration by the Pharmacy Board.
For example, according to the guidelines a pharmacist who is convicted or placed on deferred adjudication/probation for a felony drug-related offense under Chapter 481 or 483 of the Health and Safety Code related to fraud, or the manufacture, delivery, theft, or possession with intent to deliver of drugs is subject to the denial or revocation of their pharmacist license until 20 years after the date of disposition. Even at the twenty year mark, the guidelines state the Texas State Board of Pharmacy’s intent to place the pharmacist on a five year probationary order.
For those pharmacists convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for the felony possession of drugs, the guidelines state that the Board will deny, revoke, or suspend the professional’s license if they are still on probation. Likewise, if the pharmacist is not on probation but it has been five or less years since the date of disposition, then they are eligible for a five year probationary order but only if they have first been evaluated by an addiction specialist who opines that they are safe to continue practicing pharmacy. Even if it has been over twenty years since the date of disposition, the TSBP still wants to place the pharmacist on a one year probationary order. Of additional note is that the guidelines apply essentially the same set of penalties to a pharmacist convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for misdemeanor possession.
It has been my experience as an attorney that the Texas State Board of Pharmacy tries to strictly adhere to these guidelines at the informal stage of the investigatory process only to become somewhat more receptive to mitigating evidence and other factors once a case has been filed at SOAH. Unfortunately, I have seen many pro se or poorly represented pharmacists accept the Board’s settlement offer, however harsh, at the informal stage out of sense that nothing better is possible.
Legally speaking, the TSBP’s sanction guidelines are only just that: guidelines. Although an Administrative Law Judge will give the guidelines some deference at a formal administrative hearing, Pharmacy Board attorneys are still required to show that under the specific factors present in that case, the requested sanction is warranted. On the flipside, it is the burden of the pharmacist and their attorney to draw out the mitigating factors and demonstrate why a lesser sanction is in order. This necessarily demands an intimate and working knowledge of the rest of the Pharmacy Board’s rules, the Texas Pharmacy Act, and other pertinent sections of the Texas Occupations Code, including Chapter 53, as to first, what are the relevant mitigating factors and second, how to get them into evidence.
Every pharmacist with a criminal record or a pending criminal case should be aware of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy’s new sanction policies. If you are in such a situation I strongly advise that you contact an attorney experienced in administrative law and representation before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy to discuss possible outcomes and preemptive courses of action.
Recently I have represented several nurses before the Texas Board of Nursing who were being pursued by Board Staff for allegations for which they had already been acquitted by the criminal justice system. As one would expect, this quasi-double jeopardy is extremely frustrating to the nurse. Despite already having hired a criminal lawyer and clearing their name in criminal court, they must now hire a license defense attorney to do the same thing before the Board of Nursing.
The most recent example, involved a case where the nurse had been accused of an inappropriate touching by a ten year old girl. The girl claimed that she had awaken at a sleep over at the client’s house to discover the nurse touching her; however, there were several inconsistencies with the girl’s testimony and it later came out that she was friends with another young girl who had made the exact same allegation (down to every detail) against my client several years prior but had subsequently admitted to her mother that she had made it up.
At the close of the nurse’s criminal trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Moreover, Child Protective Services had conducted their own investigation into the matter and determined that nothing had occurred. Yet, despite his acquittal and the negative finding by Child Protective Services, the Texas Board of Nursing decided to pursue their own disciplinary action against my client, seeking the revocation of his nursing license.
Thankfully, my firm was able to enforce the expunction order which had previously been entered by the criminal court to prevent the Board from using second-hand records from that trial to prove their case. Instead, the Board of Nursing was forced to bring the girl to testify in person at a hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Based on conflicting testimony from our witnesses and several discrepancies between the girl’s original outcry and her testimony at the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that the Board of Nursing had not met their burden of proof and accordingly entered an opinion favorable to the nurse.
I understand that the Board has a mission to protect the public from bad nurses; nevertheless, at some point one has to think that enough is enough. A person should only have to clear their name so many times before it is reasonable for the Board to think twice about wasting state money to retry a licensee for the same conduct.
The underlying lesson is that simply because you received a not guilty verdict in criminal court or the District Attorney decided not to prosecute, you are not shielded from a licensure action by the Texas Board of Nursing. They frequently subject a nurse licensee to yet another legal action where they are forced to again clear their name or face severe restrictions on, or even termination, of their livelihood. If you are facing such a situation with the Texas Board of Nursing, I highly recommend that you contact a seasoned administrative attorney with experience before the Texas Board of Nursing and the State Office of Administrative Hearings as otherwise you could be risking your license.
The Texas Medical Board is presently lobbying the State Legislature to pass a new bill which would grant them extensive new regulatory authority over pain management clinics. Available for public view on the Texas Legislature’s website as House Bill No. 4334, this legislation would enact Chapter 167 of the Texas Medical Practice Act and extend to the Board far-reaching power over the practice of pain medicine in Texas. As any physician specializing in this area can attest, this is concerning as the Board’s track record in regulating the practice of pain medicine is shaky at best.
The proposed bills’ coverage encompasses all “pain management clinics” which in turn is broadly defined as:
a publicly or privately owned facility for which a majority of patients are issued a prescription
for opioids, benzodiazepines, or barbiturates, including carisoprodol.
There are a number of exceptions for clinics associated with medical schools, hospitals, certain hospices, and facilities maintained and operated by the federal or state governments, however, the proposed scope and impact of the statute is otherwise quite extensive.
There are two crucial features of the bill. The first is that it requires covered pain management clinics to obtain and maintain a special license through the Texas Medical Board. This is independent of any individual state medical license held by the owner/operator and any physicians employed by or on contract with the clinic. This is critical because where there is a license, there is regulation and the bill does not disappoint in this regards. The proposed statute mandates that the Board implement rules necessary to address an extensive set of issues, including:
1) the operation of the clinic;
2) personnel requirements of the clinic, including requirements for a physician who practices at a clinic;
3) standards to ensure quality of patient care;
4) licensing application and renewal procedures and requirements;
5) inspections and complaint investigations; and
6) patient billing procedures.
Make particular note of number 3 above; depending on how this is interpreted and implemented, this could be used by the Medical Board as a carte blanche for them, through this grant of rulemaking power, to effectively set the standard of care in pain management. As an attorney who had represented many physicians in pain management cases, I find this particularly disturbing as it has been my experience that the Texas Medical Board usually pursues these cases based on an out-dated and extremely conservative view on what is the appropriate standard of care and when and how a patient with chronic pain issues should be treated.
The second striking feature of the bill is its severe restrictions on who can own, operate, or work at a pain clinic. The law would bar anyone who has ever been denied a license under which they may prescribe, dispense, administer, supply, or sell a controlled substance, had such a license restricted, or been the subject of a disciplinary order related to drugs and alcohol from owning or operating a pain clinic, serving as an employee at one, or contracting to provide services with such a clinic. This barrier is absolute; it does not matter how long ago the restriction, denial, or disciplinary action occurred nor whether any restriction is still active. No consideration is taken of the facts and circumstances surrounding the prior disciplinary action, subsequent rehabilitation, or the length of a person’s sobriety.
Moreover, an additional provision prevents any person from owning or operating a pain clinic if that individual has been convicted or pled nolo contendre to either 1) any felony or 2) a misdemeanor which is related to the distribution of illegal prescription drugs or a controlled substance. Finally the owner/operator is required to be on-site for at least 33 percent of the clinic’s operating hours and review at least 33 percent of the total number of patient files of the clinic.
While there is a genuine need to ensure adequate oversight of pain management clinics, I fear that if passed the above law will likely only increase the regulatory burden on pain doctors in Texas, a group that already suffers from a disproportionate number of disciplinary actions and investigations led by the Medical Board. Until the Texas Medical Board discards its out-of-date views on the treatment of chronic pain and embraces the new medical consensus that this is real, persistent, and under treated problem, I fear that the proposed bill will only make it more to difficult to safely practice this needed discipline in Texas.
I would also like to stress in closing that any pain physician who is being investigated by the Texas Medical Board should contact an attorney immediately as the consequences of going it alone are typically disastrous. The Board routinely seeks a revocation in such cases on the assumption that the physician must be running a “pill mill” dispensing a standard set of medications without regard to each patient’s individual condition and needs. Even when a revocation is not on the table other common sanctions include restrictions on the physician’s DEA and DPS certificates, restrictions on the doctor’s ability to supervise physician assistants and nurse practitioners, and the imposition of a chart monitor. Any of these sanctions can be considered a restriction on the physician’s license and hence led to exclusion from third-party networks and other credentialing bodies, with the former being a potentially fatal development for many practices.
If you are being pursued by the Texas Medical Board in a pain management matter it is well worth your interest to contact an attorney with experience both before the Board and in administrative litigation generally and in representing pain specialists and their clinics.
Texas State Board of Pharmacy Overreaches Statutory Mandate Regarding Deferred Adjudications/Community Supervision:
I am currently serving as the defense attorney in several cases before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy that involve clients who are presently on deferred adjudication/community supervision for drug related offenses. In all of these cases the Board has taken the position that their Rules mandate the outright revocation of the license of any pharmacist or pharmacist tech who is on community supervision or probation for a felony drug related offense regardless of the circumstances or any other factor. This is outrageous and a clear contravention of their statutory mandate.
All administrative licensing agencies are creatures of statute and accordingly must derive their authority to regulate from law passed by the state Legislature. The Texas Pharmacy Act sets forth the public mandate of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy in § 551.002 of the Texas Occupations Code. This Sections states that it is the purpose of the Pharmacy Act and the Pharmacy Board “to regulate in the public interest the practice of pharmacy in this state as a professional practice…” in such a way that will “promote, preserve, and protect the public health, safety, and welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 551.002. Try as it might, the Board must regulate and discipline pharmacists while remaining within the confines of this public mandate.
In defiance of § 551.002, the Board has, within the past three years, passed and frequently amended Title 22 § 281.64 of the Texas Administrative Code in such a way as to make it impossible for any pharmacist or pharmacist tech to retain their license if they are also placed on deferred adjudication. For example, under Rule 218.64 any pharmacist or pharmacist tech who has been convicted of or is currently on deferred adjudication or deferred disposition for a felony involving either 1) mere possession or 2) the manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to deliver, fraud, or theft of drugs is automatically subject to the revocation or denial of their license. This is without regard to the individual’s culpability, rehabilitation, age at the time of offense, or current fitness to serve as a licensed pharmacist or pharmacist tech. In many situations the pharmacist is not even deemed eligible for licensure until 20 years has passed since the date of disposition.
This Rule is in clear conflict with the Board’s statutory mandate. That mandate requires the Board to regulate “in the public interest” and in such a way that will “promote, preserve, and protect the public health, safety, and welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 551.002. Licensure revocation based merely in the bare fact of being on community supervision or probation for a drug-related offense satisfies neither of these standards. This Rule takes no account of the pharmacist or pharmacist tech’s extent of involvement in the criminal offense, whether they were even aware a criminal offense was being committed, or whether their participation was minimal or expansive. No account is taken of the licensee’s subsequent rehabilitation, their youthfulness at the time of the offense, or their present and future value to the community. The only thing that matters is whether or not twenty years have passed since the date of disposition.
Keep in mind that under Chapter 53 of the Texas Occupations Code licensing agencies such as the Pharmacy Board are required to take into account a set of specified mitigating factors, many of which are listed above, when taking a disciplinary action against a licensee who has actually been convicted of the same offense. Arguably on this ground alone, the Pharmacy Board’s Rule 281.64 is ultra vires (A Latin phrase crucial to administrative law which translates as “beyond the powers”) and hence void.
The only real explanation for this outrageous policy is a desire to punish pharmacists merely for the fact that they are on criminal probation and thereby guard the public image of the Pharmacy Board. There is no rational reason for summarily revoking a pharmacist who is on deferred adjudication for a drug-related offense. This is underlined by the fact that the Board freely permits chemically dependent and impaired pharmacists to continue to practice. Almost by definition these licensees have committed acts that would be deemed, had they been prosecuted, criminal possession, prescription fraud, and any of a number of offenses under the Texas Health and Safety Code. Many of these licensees also have ongoing addiction and chemical dependency issues, a circumstance which would arguably make their continued licensure more dangerous to public health and safety.
Furthermore, in my practice I have served as the defense attorney for hundreds of other licensed health care professionals before the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Dental Examiners, and the State Board of Veterinary Examiners. These agencies are all notable because they all regulate licensees who hold prescriptive authority. None of these agencies have a similar provision in their administrative Rules. It is unclear why these Texas Boards feel that the public health and safety is safeguarded by permitting their licensees, who are also on felony deferred adjudication, to continue to practice under probated suspensions or subject to a reprimand whereas the Pharmacy Board demands outright revocation as a matter of law. Likely they realize that revocation as a matter of law is unreasonable, overly draconian, and likely beyond the bounds of their administrative authority. Even a Texas criminal court has greater discretion in fitting an appropriate punishment to each case.
It remains to be seen whether or not Rule 281.64 can actually withstand legal scrutiny in a full contested case or declaratory judgment action. I feel confident that it cannot, however, even challenging this Rule places the pharmacist in a position where they have spend extensive legal fees, not to mention time and frustration, to circumvent Rule 281.64.
The lesson any pharmacist or pharmacist tech should take away is that if you are on deferred adjudication for a drug-related offense you should seek the advice of an attorney immediately. This attorney should also be someone who is familiar with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, the Pharmacy Act, and the applicable administrative rules. Early intervention can mean the difference between continuing as a pharmacist and losing your license and source of income.
As most Texas nurses are now aware, the Texas Board of Nursing has for several years been performing criminal background checks as part of the renewal process. Each year a certain number of nurses who are up for renewal are required to submit fingerprints for an FBI background check. Those persons who lack any criminal history or who have previously disclosed that history to the Board need not worry. However, any licensees who do have an undisclosed criminal matter, even a minor one, should be concerned as the Board will likely use that record as an excuse to open an investigation and vigorously probe for any history or other indications that they feel indicates the person may lack fitness to practice nursing. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the Board’s policy is that they will apply the same searching examination no matter how old or miniscule the criminal record.
As an example, I recently served as the attorney for the spouse of a former client, who is also a nurse. His issue was that he recently received a letter from a Board investigator stating that a twenty year old arrest for misdemeanor possession of marijuana had popped up during his renewal background check and that they were opening an investigation based on it. The charge was so old that my client didn’t even remember it which is also the reason he had not disclosed it the Board. The arrest in fact is so old that it predates his entrance into nursing school. Furthermore, the fact that only an arrest showed up indicates that the local prosecutor likely decided that the matter was so minor that it did not warrant prosecution. Yet, the Board’s desire to pursue this old charge meant that he had to contact me and I dutifully sent a not so nice letter to the Board telling them to back off.
Essentially the Board is wasting state tax dollars and subjecting veteran nurses to searching and oftentimes humiliating investigations on the basis of decades-old minor criminal offenses which likely committed before the person was even licensed. This goes well beyond any investigatory/disciplinary mandate extended by the state legislature when they granted the Board the authority to perform extensive background checks as part of the renewal process.
The Texas Board of Nursing’s functions do include the screening of new and current licensees for the kind of criminal record which could indicate that they lack fitness to practice nursing. However, this authority does not extend to investigations and possible disciplinary action based on minor offenses committed one or two decades ago with years of uninterrupted, problem-free practice in the interim. All this does is waste Board funding and misdirect their limited resources away from pursuing licensees with genuine and ongoing issues that raise real questions about their safe practice.
It is unfortunate that it often takes the hiring of an attorney to convince the Board to retreat from this type of baseless investigation since they should never occur in the first place. It has been my experience as an attorney in many of these cases that the Board is essentially using the old offense as an excuse to sift into the nurse’s record and try and find anything which can then be added on as firmer grounds for disciplinary action. For example, the nurse will frequently be asked to submit to a polygraph examination and post-test forensic evaluation. As I have discussed elsewhere in my blog the Board has no authority to request this and the nurse is full within their rights to simply refuse. The problem is the nurse is never informed of this right of refusal as submission to test is presented as a mandatory matter-of-course. Following this the Board will habitually make an inappropriate referral to TPAPN based on the original criminal matter and whatever admissions or suspicious responses result from the polygraph and interview. Again the foundation for all of this can be nothing more than a decades old DWI or possession charge.
Any nurse facing such a situation should consider hiring an attorney with experience representing clients before the Texas Board of Nursing. Unless they face a lawyer who knows what is and is not within their authority, the Board will likely try to initiate their own minor inquisition into your work and life history.
Every Texas insurance agent should be aware of the most common grounds for being the subject of a disciplinary investigation and action by the Texas Department of Insurance as well as the basic disciplinary procedures that are involved in this process.
Although not exhaustive, § 4005.101 of the Insurance Code sets out the most general and frequently used grounds for a disciplinary action against an agent. These include:
- intentional material misstatements or fraud in connection with obtaining a license;
- misappropriation, conversion, or illegal withholding of money belonging to a client, insurer, or health maintenance organization;
- conviction for a felony;
- material misrepresentation of the terms of a policy or contract;
- engaging in fraudulent or dishonest acts or practices;
- improper offering or giving of rebates;
- violations of any insurance law; and
- failure to maintain continuing education requirements.
Texas Insurance Code § 4005.101. Note that many of these -particularly numbers (1), (3), (4), (5), and (7)- are broad-sweeping, encompassing a wide swath of potential conduct. In particular, TDI can and will interpret these provisions as they deem is needed to protect the public from fraudulent or dishonest insurance practices.
The Texas Department of Insurance can impose an array of sanctions on an agent licensee. These include outright revocation/suspension/denial of the agent’s license in its entirety or only as to specific lines of insurance. The TDI can also decide to probate a suspension and attach conditions limiting the scope of the agent’s license. Finally,
the TDI may issue a public reprimand or impose sizable fines. Id. at § 4005.104.
Typically, an agent will first realize that the Department of Insurance is considering a disciplinary action against their license when they receive a letter of investigation. This letter should inform the agent that an official investigation is being conducted by TDI and outline the basic facts that led to its initiation and that are providing its focus. From this point, TDI may conduct an informal hearing on the matter where the agent, their attorney if they have retained one, and the prosecuting staff attorney have an opportunity to present their case before a small panel. This panel will then make a recommendation to TDI. Unless the Department of Insurance decides to dismiss the matter entirely, they will then offer an order to the agent that sets out official findings and specific sanctions.
If the agent refuses to sign the order, their only option at this point is to request a full hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings. This is a trial-like proceeding that is complex and governed by the Administrative Procedures Act. During this process both the TDI and agent will conduct full discovery, file motions, and ultimately conduct a full evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Following this, the Judge will enter his findings of fact and recommended sanctions with the Department of Insurance who is then free, within certain legal bounds, to accept or reject it. Finally, TDI will enter an order that either agrees or disagrees with the ALJ and sets forth sanctions. Any further contest will require that the agent file a suit in Austin District Court, an even more complex and costly proposition.
Any insurance agent who has received a letter of investigation would be wise to contact an attorney. An attorney experienced in administrative law, professional licensing law, and representation before the Texas Department of Insurance should be able to give good advice on how to proceed. Typically, the later in the process a licensee waits to obtain professional legal advice the more costly and limited their options become. Also, it has been my observation that agents represented by an attorney with background in professional licensing matters tend to achieve better outcomes than those represented by a lawyer without this experience or, even worse, who are not represented by an attorney at all.