If you hold a California optometry license and have been served notice of an investigation or a formal accusation by the California State Board of Optometry, your license is at risk and you should waste not time in availing yourself of the services of an experienced license defense lawyer.
No challenge to your license and your reputation should be simply acquiesced to without exploring all of your possible defense strategies and doing everything legally possible to defeat or reduce in severity the disciplinary action the Board of Optometry contemplates implementing against you.
At California License Attorney, we have the tools, training, and experience it takes to win the best possible outcome to any investigation you may be facing. And we make ourselves available to assist you 24/7. Contact us today at 888-959-0068 for a free, no-obligation consultation, and we will discuss with you your best options going forward.
The Valuable Services Rendered by Optometrists
Most of us simply take our eyesight for granted, until we experience a problem, and then we turn to an optometrist for help. From prescription of glasses and contacts to diagnosis of a wide array of eye diseases to development of appropriate, customized treatment plans, optometrists' daily tasks take them in a variety of directions.
And the in-depth knowledge, practical experience, and ability to use highly specialized equipment required of optometrists is extremely demanding, to say the least. And with the move of many optometrists into laser eye surgery, the job description is indeed imposing.
But despite the valuable services rendered by California optometrists and the numerous tests, rigorous training, and expensive licensing process that you must go through to become a professional optometrist in our state, it is very easy to see your license suddenly put in jeopardy.
Even one mistake (something even the best doctors of optometry can make) can lead to a license-threatening complaint and investigation. And oftentimes, complaints are not even valid. A supposed misdiagnosis, departure from the standard of care, or act of negligence could just as easily be a matter of unrealistic expectations or of wrongful blame for outcomes beyond your control.
As an optometrist, you take the care of your eye patients very seriously and cannot take formally registered complaints lightly. But many complaints are simply not valid or are presented to the board's consumer affairs website in an exaggerated or misleading way. And even if you did make a mistake, it does not have to be career-ending.
At California License Attorney, we are not here to judge you but to help you. We will work to defend your license and your future career in every way legally possible and fight for a dismissal or reduced penalty, always ensuring you receive the best possible outcome to your case.
The Mission of the California State Board of Optometry
The State Board of Optometry exists for the purpose of protecting consumers and patients from unsafe or sub-standard care. As such, they restrict the issuance of licenses, suspend or revoke existing licenses, and take other disciplinary actions (as them deem necessary) to correct and deter any violations of state laws and regulations relevant to the field of optometry.
The board simply does not serve optometrists as such, but the public. This does not mean they are necessarily "against you," but they certainly are not "for you" either. We, as you defense attorneys, are truly "on your side." We know how to talk to the Board of Optometry and its investigators and when and how to negotiate.
The board regularly takes in large numbers of complaints from consumers. Most of these soon prove to be without merit and are only briefly investigated or not investigated at all. But, on the other hand, the number of complaints has risen rapidly in recent years, and every complaint represents a threat to you license.
If you have received a notice of investigation or a call/visit from a board-appointed investigator, you should take this very seriously. And you should never talk to an investigator on your own without first speaking to an experienced license defense attorney. To do so risks your inadvertently incriminating yourself and curtailing your defense options going forward.
The Board of Optometry's Uniform Standards and Disciplinary Guidelines
The California Board of Optometry posts online its set of uniform standards for dealing with optometrists who are found to have a drug/alcohol abuse problem and their recommended disciplinary guidelines for a long list of possible violations.
The substance abuse standards are fixed, at least as to the minimum actions required. (Additional measures are always possible if the administrative law judge, ALJ, presiding over your hearing deems them necessary).
But most offenses have a wider range of possible disciplinary actions. Maximums are almost invariably revocation of your license, while minimums vary more. A typical minimum, however, is a stayed revocation with 3 to 5 years of license probation. It is also common for a short suspension period (often 30 days), continuing education related to the violation, work-site monitoring during probation, and other stipulations and conditions to be included in a decision.
Some of the most common formal accusations that could lead to disciplinary action include:
- Excessive prescribing or treatment.
- Sexual misconduct.
- Lack of mental or physical fitness.
- Negligent or incompetent care.
- Non-adherence to infection control and other health and safety standards.
- Substance abuse or addiction, especially when occurring on the job site.
- Misuse of topical pharmaceutical agents.
- Obtaining an optometrist license by fraud.
- Practicing optometry without a valid license.
- Allowing unlicensed assistants to work under you.
- False or deceptive advertising practices.
- Unprofessional conduct.
- Running your practice from an unlawful location.
- Having criminal convictions that substantially relate to your practice.
- Prescribing drugs without first conducting a good-faith exam.
- Operating beyond the limits of your license.
- Not keeping adequate patient records or keeping fraudulent records.
- Not honoring a patient's request for his/her record.
- Being under license discipline by another California government agency or in another U.S.state.
- Violating the terms of your license probation.
If the administrative law judge (ALJ) at your hearing and/or the board determine you "incapable of safe practice," a revocation will almost certainly occur. But otherwise, a stayed revocation with probation is likely obtainable.
All disciplinary actions taken against you, be it suspension, probation, denial of license application, citation and fine, or letter of reprimand will be posted online for public viewing. This can affect your ability to gain future clients or employers, so even more minor disciplinary actions should be fought if at all possible.
Also understand that the board will seek to recover the costs of investigation and of probationary monitoring if you receive formal discipline. It is their policy to reduce the costs of licenses and other services by "recovering" these costs. If you are unable to pay, however, due to financial hardship, there are ways we can work for a one-year payment plan. But missing a payment while on probation would constitute a probation violation, so it is critical to secure a workable payment schedule in such scenarios.
In many cases, a stipulated settlement will be reached that avoids the need for an administrative hearing. Or, such a settlement will be agreed to at the hearing. In either case, the ALJ and the board must approve the settlement for it to be valid. We always first fight for a dismissal, but we also possess well honed negotiation skills that help us obtain the best possible settlements where that is the best route to take. But we will never, of course, makes such a decision without first obtaining your full knowledge and consent.
Finally, the board may issue a citation and accompanying fine instead of ordinary disciplinary action. Along with the citation, you will likely receive an "Order for Abatement" that orders you to cease the activity for which you are being fined. While a citation may seem not worth fighting, especially if the fine is not large, in reality, it is worthwhile to fight to keep it off your public record.
Aggravating and Mitigating Evidence
As in criminal court cases, administrative hearings of the Board of Optometry involve far more than a mere guilty or not guilty determination. If at all possible, we will win a dismissal by presenting exculpatory evidence in your favor, by calling in our own expert witnesses, by cross-examining the witnesses against you, and by undermining the evidence and argument of the prosecution.
But in cases where some form of discipline will almost certainly be issued, the battle between the mitigating evidence we present in your favor and any aggravating evidence the prosecution brings forward, becomes key.
Aggravating factors might include such things as the patient's health being harmed or being in danger, violation of trust with patient or employer, having previous violations on your professional record, or committing a crime in the presence of a minor.
Mitigating factors include: admission and regret for wrongdoing or an unintentional mistake, the unlikelihood of the incident being repeated, cooperation with the board's investigation, no significant previous history of violations, and the lapse of a good deal of time (without additional violations) since the incident occurred.
What kind of discipline one receives and what kind of probationary terms one is bound by may well hinge on such mitigating/aggravating factors and how they are presented to the ALJ.
Substance Abuse Cases
The California State Board of Optometry is especially concerned about the effects of potential substance abuse. When practitioners are addicts, it affects how they perform and lowers the safety levels of patients.
For this reason, the board is very strict in demanding "uniform standards" in these types of cases. First, a clinical diagnostic evaluation will be ordered if you are allegedly addicted to drugs/alcohol. During the process of conducting this evaluation, you will be ordered to cease your practice. And there will be two or more random drug tests per week while you wait.
A probation officer will then determine if you need treatment (and if so, what kind), need a work-site monitor during probation, should take part in group support meetings, or should meet other conditions to be granted a stay and probation instead of a license revocation.
If you pass the evaluation, you may be able to defeat all the allegations and continue practice without restriction. But if you fail it, you can still continue practice as long as you adhere to your probationary terms.
This is where we can negotiate for less restrictive probation conditions and a shorter probationary period (the minimum, not the maximum). There are some conditions that always apply, but there are many others that are determined by the severity of your addiction and other specifics of your case. We will bring to bear all relevant facts in your favor to make probation as short and as bearable as possible.
And when your probation ends, we can help you with the legal paperwork of getting your license fully reinstated.
Contact Us Today for Help
At California License Attorney, we stand ready to come to your aid with expert legal defense and representation at a moment's notice. Our in-depth, comprehensive knowledge of California laws and regulations relevant to the field of optometry, combined with our extensive experience across a wide variety of optometry license defense cases, put us in a unique position to help you defend your license and your livelihood.
Call us anytime 24/7/365 at 888-959-0068, and we will give you a free consultation and immediately begin building you a solid defense.