Initial Response To Complaint

After the agency or board receives and processes the complaint, you will be required to respond in some way. Generally, the response is in writing, although some boards gather information through interviews with you and others by an investigator. (We regularly assist clients with written responses and are flexible in working with clients in doing so, ranging from preparing and signing responses ourselves on clients’ behalf, to reviewing responses prepared by clients and having them submit the response in their own name; we also routinely attend initial interviews with clients).


Informal Conference/Interview/Meeting

After reviewing your written response and possibly conducting some more investigation, many agencies schedule an informal meeting to discuss matters on which they may potentially take action against you. This meeting often occurs with members of the agency’s staff and at least one member of the licensing board or agency. You are free to bring counsel to these informal meetings. (If the complaint moves beyond a written response, this is often the most effective procedural stage for counsel experienced in disciplinary matters, like our office, to assist you).


Probable Cause Review

A determination is made by the licensing board or agency about whether there is probable cause to believe that a violation of the applicable standards, regulations or statutes has occurred. This may result in proposed disciplinary action or a referral for a formal hearing. With almost all boards and agencies, neither you nor your counsel is permitted to be present at this stage.


Formal Disciplinary Proceedings

This involves a formal hearing before the licensing board or agency, or before an administrative law judge at the Office of Administrative Hearings. Generally, the formal hearing has all the same aspects and components of a civil trial, but without a jury. Absent a resolution by consent order, the licensing board or agency issues a decision or an ALJ issues a recommendation to the licensing entity. (If they haven’t done so already, most professionals decide that they need to retain an attorney at the formal stage, with which our firm has considerable experience).


Potential Appeal to Superior Court or Appellate Courts

Generally, appeals are provided but the basis for appealing is limited. The appeal is based upon the record developed at the administrative level; it is not a new trial before the courts. Ordinarily, the courts will only reverse or modify an agency decision if it finds that a licensed professional’s substantial rights may have been prejudiced for several identified reasons. (We believe that an attorney’s ability to positively affect a client’s matter at this stage is much more limited than if representation begins at the administrative level).

Learn More

When faced with a disciplinary complaint, interview or informal conference with their respective licensing board or agency, many professionals wonder whether they should hire an attorney to represent them at this stage. Many decide that they will try to handle the informal stages and only hire an attorney if the matter progresses to the formal hearing stage. Others may simply consult with an attorney that they use for other legal matters but who is not familiar with their licensing board or agency.

Is this strategy a mistake? There is no single answer. However, our firm consistently finds that our best opportunity to achieve a positive result is at the informal stages of any licensing or disciplinary proceeding. Once a matter reaches the formal stage, at least the staff and generally some members of the Board or agency have decided that there is probable cause to believe that a professional has committed a significant violation. It is very difficult to get these individuals to reconsider their positions. At this point, usually the only options are to take the matter to a formal hearing or enter into a public consent order.

Here are the top five ways our firm can help you in informal disciplinary investigations and proceedings:

  1. Assist in presenting the facts in the most favorable light and help focus on those issues that may be the most important and beneficial;
  2. Identify other potential issues and attempt to address and avoid inquiry into and discussion of these matters;
  3. Provide advice about proactive steps and reforms where a violation has occurred;
  4. Advise on ways to avoid future disciplinary action; and
  5. Coordinate with professional assistance programs if substance-abuse or psychological issues are involved; we have a good working relationship with most professional assistance programs;

Representation or assistance at the informal stages is generally considerably less expensive than in formal stages. We represent clients at the informal stages before most of the major licensing boards and agencies, including those listed in our Practice Areas.

We have good working relationships with counsel for most of the boards and frequently can work out an acceptable resolution without the need for a formal hearing. We have resolved formal charges with numerous licensing entities, including the Medical Board, State Bar, Board of Pharmacy, Real Estate Commission, Appraisal Board, Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors, Board of Certified Public Accountant Examiners, the General Contractors Board and other contractor-related boards, and several counseling boards, such as the Psychology Board, the Social Work Certification and Licensure Board, the Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board, and the Marriage and Family Therapy Board.

If an acceptable resolution cannot be reached, we have many years of experience trying formal disciplinary proceedings before the various boards and agencies, such as the State Bar, Judicial Standards Commission, Board of Law Examiners, Medical Board, Department of Insurance, and Board of General Contractors, among others.

We serve as counsel for the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners and the North Carolina Board of Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselors and so do not represent licensees or applicants of those Boards.  Several boards and agencies have privately retained us to handle and prosecute highly-publicized formal disciplinary cases. These include the State Bar proceeding against former Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong, arising out of the Duke Lacrosse cases, which hearing led to his disbarment, and the Dental Board’s prosecution of a dentist from the Lake Norman area, whose license was revoked for committing bizarre sexual assaults on numerous female patients.  We also have been retained by other North Carolina licensing boards to handle disciplinary matters when their in-house or regular counsel had a conflict of interest or otherwise were disqualified from handling matters.

Skip to content