In Pennsylvania, being served with a Protection from Abuse order (PFA) can cause serious disruptions to your personal and professional life. Not only could you be banned from contact with your spouse, domestic partner, and/or children, but you may have to leave home, change your daily routine, and more. And if you're a licensed dentist in Pennsylvania, there's a chance that the PFA could also result in disciplinary action from the State Board of Dentistry, even years after the fact.
Dentists who are licensed must maintain the highest levels of professionalism and keep public trust. A PFA is an indication that you may be a risk to the public trust because someone considers you a threat. That doubt could be enough to cause the board to suspend or revoke your license to practice as a dentist. The best way to avert this issue is to be proactive by hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight the PFA. The Lento Law Firm has provided the following information to help you know what to do to protect your dentist's license.
Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania
An Order of Protection from Abuse (PFA) is a civil court order that prohibits the defendant (or respondent) from contacting or interacting with the petitioner (or petitioner). In domestic violence situations or instances involving abuse, harassment, stalking, and other forms of coercive conduct, this order is frequently sought by alleged victims. A PFA can be issued even if no criminal charges of domestic violence are filed.
If you are served a PFA in Pennsylvania, you are prohibited from having contact with the person who filed it against you while the PFA is in effect. It may also result in the loss of other rights and privileges (such as custody or visitation), depending on the court's ruling.
The PFA Process in Pennsylvania
In most cases, when a petitioner files for Protection from Abuse, the judge will issue a temporary PFA, which goes into effect immediately, barring you from contact with the petitioner until a final hearing, which is typically scheduled within ten days. At the hearing, you will be permitted to appear with an attorney who may argue your side of the story and provide evidence and witnesses to support it. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will decide whether to dismiss the temporary PFA or to convert it into a final PFA. If it is finalized, the PFA will remain in effect for up to 3 years.
What Happens if You Violate the PFA
The PFA is a very serious document, and its violation is a crime. If you break the conditions of the PFA in any way, even inadvertently, you may face criminal contempt charges and time in jail. Make sure you've gone through the PFA thoroughly to ensure that you follow all of the conditions precisely.
How Can a Protection From Abuse Order Affect Your Dentist's License?
The existence of a PFA can ultimately have an impact on your ability to practice dentistry in Pennsylvania. The State Board of Dentistry investigates allegations of misconduct, unprofessional conduct, and moral turpitude offenses--and a PFA suggests these violations may have occurred. Here are some examples of how a PFA could put your dentist's license at risk:
- A colleague, patient, or other person who is aware of your PFA files a complaint with the Board of Dentistry
- You are convicted of contempt due to violating your PFA, and it is reported to the Board of Dentistry
- The Board of Dentistry requires you to disclose the PFA and any accompanying arrests, and you fail to do so
- The Board of Dentistry pulls your court records (possibly as part of another investigation) and notices the PFA
How Might the Board of Dentistry Respond to News of My PFA?
The Pennsylvania Board of Dentistry will review the context of the PFA, and if they believe it signifies a violation of the public trust, they may initiate an investigation and inquiry. If the board believes the circumstances warrant discipline, they may call for a formal hearing at which they will determine whether to impose disciplinary action against your license--up to and including having your license suspended or revoked.
Will I Lose My Dentist's License Automatically Over a PFA?
No. The Board of Dentistry will follow the whole disciplinary procedure before rendering a judgment, and they may impose milder penalties such as bans on activities, fines, or mandated continuing education—any of which would allow you to keep your license.
Could a PFA Affect My Dentistry Career Even if My License Is Not Revoked?
Yes, it could. Any disciplinary action imposed by the board becomes a matter of public record even if you are allowed to continue to practice. This could impact your credibility with clients, patients, colleagues, and potential employers.
Will My PFA Turn Up on a Criminal Background Check?
No. The PFA is a civil order, not a criminal conviction, so it does not appear on your criminal record unless you are convicted of violating the PFA. Nonetheless, the PFA is still a part of public court records, and it may show up in certain types of searches. This can work against you if the State Board of Dentistry accesses these documents.
I Was Served With a Temporary PFA, but It Was Not Finalized. Is It Still in the Court Records?
Yes. Unfortunately, a Protection from Abuse Order is displayed indefinitely in public court records even after it has been withdrawn or dismissed, and even if the PFA itself was found to be without basis. It could still come back to haunt your dentist's license at some point, even after the PFA expires.
Is There Any Way for Me To Keep a PFA Order From Negatively Affecting My Dentist's License?
Yes, there are several measures you can take to safeguard your dentistry career in the event that you receive a PFA. A good attorney can help you determine which course of action is best for you, but here's a brief rundown of your choices.
- Contesting the PFA. Your first line of defense is to appear with your defense attorney at the PFA hearing and contest it. If you and your attorney can present a compelling argument, the judge will allow the temporary PFA to expire without issuing a final PFA—making it less likely that the licensing board will get word of it and raise concerns.
- Appealing the PFA Order. If the PFA against you is finalized, you can file a Motion for Reconsideration with the judge or submit a formal appeal with the Superior Court to seek to have the PFA overturned.
- Having the PFA vacated. If the petitioner no longer views you as a threat or has a change of heart, they may choose to vacate the PFA—to have it rescinded before it expires.
- Getting Your PFA Record Expunged. If a temporary PFA is dismissed without being finalized, or if the petitioner withdraws the petition for a PFA before it becomes final, you can file a petition to have the PFA record expunged. While the PFA would only be visible in court records (not your criminal record), this step would eliminate all mentions of the PFA from public view.
What Do I Do if the Board of Dentistry Raises Concerns About a PFA?
If the Board of Dentistry initiates an investigation over your PFA, your best course of action is to hire an attorney with experience in professional license defense. A good lawyer can assist you through the investigation and discipline procedure, negotiate on your behalf with the board, and provide evidence and arguments to show why the PFA will not have an impact on how you do your job. In many cases, the help of an attorney can avert disciplinary actions from the Board of Dentistry.
While a Protection from Abuse Order may impact your dentist's license in Pennsylvania, it doesn't have to end your career. You may be able to avoid penalties from the Board of Dentistry and maintain your license by taking preventative measures early with the aid of an experienced Pennsylvania defense counsel. Conversely, if you do nothing, you run the risk of being at the mercy of the board if/when they are alerted to your PFA. Worst-case scenario, this could result in the loss of your license, and by extension, your dental practice.
Joseph D. Lento is a seasoned attorney with considerable expertise representing licensed dentists before the State Board of Dentistry. Don't allow a Protection from Abuse Order put your career as a dentist on hold. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.