Professional Licenses and Administrative Law | A Lawyer’s Perspective.
Washington departments, boards, commissions, committees and agencies issue, investigate and administer sanctions for almost all health care professional licenses in the State of Washington. Each of these departments, boards, commissions, committees and agencies utilizes investigative departments, judicial departments and legal departments that are staffed with investigators and/or lawyers well versed in the applicable administrative law and the policies that guide the various agencies, commissions, boards and committees. These agencies use investigators and attorneys to advocate for a specific result, and so should you. Self-representation is generally difficult and a poor idea because being impartial and self critical on issues that directly affect one’s livelihood is extremely difficult. We recognize fulfilling our role as independent counsel is essential to helping clients navigate difficult situations.
Whether a person or family member is seeking a professional license, or a person or family member is concerned about a summary suspension, a civil investigation or criminal investigation, it is important to protect your rights and seek counsel in the applicable administrative law early on in the process. Civil proceedings surrounding professional licenses are guided by short timelines set by policy, rules and procedures that boards, commissions, committees, agencies and those with professional licenses must follow when investigating or sanctioning a licensee. Failure to answer will be treated as a default; rules must be followed and burdens of proof must be met to prove an allegation. As a team of lawyers who have a wide background in litigation, we speak this language fluently.
As attorneys who also practice defense work in the criminal judicial system, we have found the civil administrative system to be unique because:
- The rules, policy and legislation developed by these administrative agencies are not as heavily scrutinized as true “laws” produced by the Washington State legislature.
- Civil Administrative agencies do not have as large a body of case law interpreting their actions.
- Civil Administrative law generally does not include the right to a jury trial.
- Often, the same Washington State agency who is making a decision regarding a professional license is the same Washington State administrative agency who has investigated the accusation (an inherent conflict unique to administrative law).
- Cases are judged on relatively “loose” standards i.e. “unprofessional conduct” or “reasonable skill and safety”.
- The standards of proof in administrative hearings are standards like “more likely than not”, “a preponderance of the evidence” or “clear and convincing evidence” vs. the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” most people are familiar with.
- Administrative agencies do not decide whether someone is guilty of a crime, they decide whether rules or policies have been violated; and, if so, what the appropriate sanction is.
- Individuals are not given the procedural benefits often associated with criminal cases (presumed innocent, assigned a lawyer, a complete record etc.).
With all this in mind, it is important to recognize the tone of litigation in administrative law cases should be approached carefully and with forethought by your attorney as not every situation is best served by an aggressive bulldog adversarial stance. As lawyers and counselors at law, we believe it especially important that attorneys who practice in this area have the experience, tact and savvy to approach every situation with the appropriate tone to serve the desired result. The tone of litigation in a fabricated accusation of sexual abuse or a false accusation of theft should be completely different than an administrative action surrounding a client who is an addict and stole to support a habit. The tone of litigation should be completely different in dealing with an accusation of an isolated incident vs. a pattern of conduct. Hiring a lawyer who does not understand this, can’t change their tone to suit the situation or uses the wrong litigation tone with an administrative agency can cause real damage, waste time, waste resources and prejudice a client. Deciding the tone of litigation should be part of the 2-4 hour consultation with your lawyer where each of you decide whether you can work together and what the common goal should be.
As lawyers who negotiate, litigate and appeal professional and business licensing issues within an administrative system:
- we are aware our clients will be sanctioned for not acting in good faith;
- it is essential to be knowledgeable of the rules, procedures and policies that apply to the professional license;
- we educate ourselves as to similarly situated rulings;
- we are results oriented;
- we always remain professional with an investigatory agency;
- we carefully choose what tone or stance best serves a case;
- we always argue impersonally and litigate a case in a professional manner; and
- we know how to make a record so if our case is mishandled by the administrative department, we have a clear record to appeal. It is possible to recoup some attorney fees on appeals in administrative actions though these situations are very fact specific and require careful scrutiny by counsel.
Lawyers or attorneys who handle this kind of work need to have the capacity to immediately act, be part counselor at law, part client ambassador, part bulldog litigator, and above all be results oriented.
This firm of lawyers is a unique blend of litigation skills, experience, knowledge and temperament. Whether we are in the role of legal counsel, ambassador, negotiator, or litigator, we have years of experience resolving complex situations with our clients’ best interests in mind. Choosing incompetent, lazy or ineffective counsel can make your legal journey a long and difficult road. This firm is founded on a service, a blue-collar work ethic, teamwork and an intense dislike of losing. Call 206-708-7852 to set up an appointment to discuss your situation.