California Veterinary Medical Board License Attorney
The California Veterinary Medical Board is a division within the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The Veterinary Board is headquartered in Sacramento and has as its mission the protection of the public by regulation of California’s licensed veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians. Public protection is an important function. Sometimes, however, false or exaggerated charges can threaten the licenses and livelihoods on veterinary professionals in California. In these circumstances, you need a skilled, experienced, and fierce professional license attorney with expertise in administrative law and procedure to act as your advocate helping you achieve the best possible outcome.
When the Veterinary Medical Board investigates a complaint or allegation of violations of the California Veterinary Medicine Practice Act, an investigator from the Department of Consumer Affairs will typically gather documents, interview the complainant, interview witnesses, and ask the veterinary license professional for a written statement. The veterinary board investigator will often request the licensee sign an authorization to obtain employment records, and ask the veterinarian or veterinary technician to be interviewed about the facts and charges. Hiring a professional license defense attorney early during this investigation is wise – either to consult behind the scenes or interact on your behalf with the investigator more directly. Opportunities can be lost an irreversible errors can be made during the investigative phase that can negatively affect the case outcome.
Veterinary Expert Case Evaluation
In cases involving standard of care, scope of practice, or other specialized technical analysis, the veterinary board may hire another licensed veterinarian to review the case file, consult, and make determinations about whether the licensees conduct was unprofessional, grossly negligent, or violated the Veterinary Practice Act in some other way. These experts are not infallible, and their opinions can later be challenged through cross examination and rebuttal evidence at an administrative hearing, if necessary. A skilled administrative law attorney with experience representing veterinary board licensees, and perhaps your own consulting expert, will be needed for best results.
After the veterinary board investigator concludes his or her license investigation, he or she will write a report of findings and conclusions. If an expert is engaged to consult, the investigative report and the expert’s report will be evaluated by the California Veterinary Medical Board’s staff. If the board’s staff concludes charges should be leveled against the veterinary professional’s license, the matter will be referred to the State’s attorney for preparation of a charging document known as an “Accusation.” The Accusation is served upon the veterinary board license holder, who must respond promptly before the deadline to preserve the right to contest the charges or negotiate a settlement. Once the Accusation is served, time is of the essence.
Notice of Defense
The Notice of Defense is the document the veterinary board licensee must return to challenge the Accusation. A letter, phone call, email, or some other form of communication to the veterinary board or its attorneys will not suffice. If you haven’t already hired your own professional license defense attorney, hiring a lawyer to review your Accusation, file your notice of defense, and represent you is critical.
California law requires the veterinary board and its lawyers to serve you with a blank Notice of Defense form (typically one page) to start the process to contest the charges. While not comprehensive, the form is sufficient to perfect your administrative appeal rights. It is very important you do not allow the deadline to pass without filing your Notice of Defense because the veterinary board may move to impose a revocation, suspension, or other penalty on your license by default if you do not respond correctly and in time. After you hire us to represent you, we will file a more comprehensive Notice of Defense and demand for discovery, protecting your right to challenge the sufficiency of the Accusation and obtaining copies for analysis of the evidence the board used to level the charges against you.
The form letters and notices generated by the California Veterinary Medical Board and its in-house attorneys, or attorneys at the California Department of Justice, are not written uniquely for your case. Everyone is offered a “stipulated settlement” at the outset of their professional license case regardless of the seriousness of the charges. To the veterinary board or its lawyers, their idea of a stipulated settlement may be they will agree you may surrender your license. Do not be mislead by a form letter from the board mentioning an offer of a stipulated settlement. You still must protect yourself.
After the Notice of Defense is filed, discovery is exchanged and analyzed, and settlement negotiations occur, a stipulated settlement may be in your best interest. Many professional license cases resolve by a stipulated settlement. Some do not settle and must be challenged at an administrative hearing. Hiring a veterinary board license attorney to advise you and negotiate a stipulated settlement is a key to a good outcome. If settlement negotiations are unsuccessful, your professional license lawyer will be prepared to represent you at the hearing.
If your case does not settle on terms acceptable to you and the Veterinary Medical Board, an administrative hearing may be held before an administrative law judge at the California Office of Administrative Hearings. This is an adversary proceeding where witnesses are called to testify, documents and other exhibits are introduced, and the administrative law judge writes a proposed decision for the board based upon the fact and the evidence as applied to the law. Where an Accusation has issued, the board puts its case on first, and has the burden of proving the charges in the Accusation. You may cross examine witnesses, introduce your own exhibits, and call your own percipient and expert witnesses. Attorneys for the board and for you will make opening statements and closing arguments. Often, legal briefing of complex or nuanced issues of law is required. Finally, the administrative law judge will prepare his or her decision in writing.
Many veterinary board and other professional licensees mistakenly believed the administrative hearing is an informal conference and go in unprepared or without a license defense attorney. We frequently hear from these professionals after a devastating and unexpected loss at the hearing, hoping we can somehow reverse the result. While there is a method to challenge in superior court the final decision of the veterinary board, that process (known as a writ of mandate) relies heavily on the record of the administrative hearing. With few limited exceptions, new evidence is not introduced or considered by the court. So, a “do-over” is rarely possible. This is why hiring a veterinary board defense attorney early in the process is so important.