When an Agency Investigates Your License: Formal Charges and Informal Settlement Conferences
After a licensing board begins an investigation, it will subsequently file formal charges and invite the licensee to speak at an informal settlement conference (or “ISC”). This post will discuss these stages, but please note that these procedural rules are described generally: there might be variations between different boards. Some are minor, such as referring to informal settlement conferences simply as “informal conferences.” Others are far more substantial: for example, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) does not employ informal settlement conferences at all!
The most practical difference between the investigation stage and the formal charges stage is that formal charges will often be posted in the public license verification system, which may be accessible on an agency website or a national database such as Nursys. Thus, a potential client or employer can see in the system that charges are pending, although typically the specific charges are not public.
When formally charged by the agency, you will receive these charges by mail, and the agency will request a written response from you. As stated in our previous post, DO NOT IGNORE letters sent by the agency, as a failure to respond will give the agency the legal authority to proceed with a “default judgment.” A default judgment allows the agency to decide the case against you without giving you a chance to defend yourself. Oftentimes, a default judgment will lead to revocation of the professional license, and most agencies will not allow a licensee to reapply until one year after revocation. Do not lose your livelihood because you didn’t respond to a letter!
In addition to asking for a written response, the formal charges will usually ask that you attend an informal settlement conference to discuss the charges. (Some agencies, such as the Board of Nursing, separate this into two separate steps). While you will have the opportunity to speak to the agency in person, your written response is the first thing the agency will see. Often the agency will have made their decision or be leaning in a direction before you even come through the door, so it’s crucial to submit a thoroughly prepared response. We strongly recommend that you consult with an attorney prior to filing a written response.
Informal Settlement Conference (ISC)
The informal settlement conference is an opportunity to present your side of the story to a panel of the agency. The panel will typically consist of board members, agency directors, the attorney and/or investigator assigned to your case, and other agency staff. One minor note here: because the panel is not the entire board of the agency, any decision made at the informal settlement conference is not binding on the agency, it is merely a proposal. However, it is exceptionally rare that a board does not accept the panel’s proposal.
The typical procedure at an informal settlement conference is that the agency attorney or investigator will present the background of the case and list your responsive items. After that, the panel will begin to ask questions relating to the charges and response. Here, an attorney can advise you as to what kind of questions to expect. An attorney can also make short arguments for you as may be appropriate.
After you have spoken to the panel, the panel will reach a proposed decision based on your written response and the informal conference. This proposed decision is referred to by many terms, such as “Proposed Agreed Order” or “Proposed Consent Order.” The decision is not a final order but instead is essentially a settlement offer. It is not necessary that you accept the proposed decision. If you do not accept the proposal, the agency will then take your case to a hearing before an administrative law judge or other hearing officer, which we will discuss next month.
Some agencies, such as the Texas State Board of Pharmacy (TSBP), typically inform you of their decision the same day, while others, such as the Texas Board of Professional Engineers (TSBPE), typically inform you of their decision later. For agencies that make their decision the same day, the agency will ask you to step into the lobby while they deliberate, and will invite you back in to hear their proposed decision. You will NOT be required to accept or decline the decision that day, but will receive a formal copy of the proposed decision by mail. For agencies that make their decision later, you will simply receive the proposed decision by mail a few days later.
You have worked hard to earn your professional license, and you should put the same effort into preserving it. If you have any questions or comments about the material included here, please contact FosterDanowsky.
The information on this blog is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship.