As a duly licensed optometrist in Pennsylvania, you've invested heavily in your career to get where you are today--and your license to practice is the key to your livelihood. Unfortunately, all it may take to jeopardize that license is a single complaint or allegation of wrongdoing that triggers an investigation by the Pennsylvania State Board of Optometry. If you are served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA), for example, in addition to the hardship of being separated from your significant other (and possibly your children), you could possibly face disciplinary action from the licensing board. It could even result in having your license revoked.
The good news is that if you respond proactively to a PFA, you can get ahead of the problem and quite possibly avert disaster when it comes to your optometry license. The following is important information compiled by the Lento Law Firm to help you understand what should be done if your license is jeopardized by the existence of a PFA.
Understanding PFAs in Pennsylvania
In the state of Pennsylvania, a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is intended to provide protection for alleged victims in instances of domestic abuse, harassment, or stalking. A PFA can be requested by a spouse, domestic partner, dating partner, cohabitant, or family member. The person requesting the PFA is the petitioner (or plaintiff), and the person receiving it is the respondent (or defendant.) If you're served with a PFA, you are prohibited from making contact with the petitioner, and depending on if you have children with the petitioner, your custody rights could be impacted as well.
The PFA Process in Pennsylvania
A majority of petitioners seeking protection will first request a temporary PFA. If issued by the judge, it goes into effect immediately and without the defendant's consent for up to ten days, pending a hearing. At this hearing, you have the opportunity to bring an attorney and present evidence to challenge the PFA. The judge will make a decision at the end of the hearing whether to dismiss the temporary PFA or issue a final PFA. If a final PFA is issued, it remains in effect for up to three years.
Consequences for Violating the PFA
If you violate the terms of the PFA (even inadvertently), you could be charged with criminal contempt. If convicted, not only could you face up to six months in jail, but you would also have a criminal record that might cause issues with the state licensing board. Whether or not the PFA is fair, make sure you understand its terms and restrictions and abide by them to avoid further negative consequences.
Will My PFA Show Up on My Criminal Record?
Only if you are convicted for violating it. A PFA by itself is a civil action, not a criminal matter. You can have a PFA against you and never be charged with a crime, nor are PFAs visible in criminal background checks. However, PFAs are recorded in public court records even if they have been dismissed or expired. If the licensing board obtains these documents for any reason, it could trigger an investigation. Likewise, if you violate the PFA and are convicted of contempt, that conviction will appear on your criminal record.
What Could a PFA Do to Your Optometry License?
A PFA could potentially jeopardize your ability to practice as an optometrist in Pennsylvania. Even if no criminal charges are filed, the PFA suggests that you may have acted improperly and in violation of state standards, possibly triggering an investigation into your license. For example:
- A complaint could be filed against you by a patient, colleague, or any other person who knows about the PFA
- A criminal record that results from a conviction for violating the PFA could lead to an investigation
- The board could review court records as part of an investigation and notice the presence of the PFA
Any of these scenarios could cause the Board of Optometry to conduct an investigation. If they are convinced that wrongdoing occurred, they could call a formal hearing to determine whether to invoke disciplinary action against your license—up to and including revoking it completely.
Are There Any Alternatives To Losing My License if the Board Decides To Invoke Discipline?
Yes. Revoking a license is the worst-case scenario, and there are other actions the board may take that would allow you to keep your license intact. (An attorney's help could weigh heavily on their decision to be lenient.) These milder penalties may include fines, formal reprimands, mandated counseling/treatment, license restrictions, probation, etc. However, be aware that even these lesser disciplinary actions against you could impact your career negatively. Any discipline against your license becomes public record, and anyone who decides to check your records (including patients, colleagues, or potential employers) can see the notation of disciplinary action.
How to Protect Your Optometry License if Served with a PFA
If there is a PFA issued against you, there are several proactive steps you can take to protect your license. These options include:
- Contesting the temporary PFA to keep it from being finalized. You and your attorney can do this during the final PFA hearing. The judge can dismiss the temporary PFA if you provide compelling evidence that it was unnecessary or shouldn't have been issued. This will lessen the chances of a board investigation.
- Appealing the PFA. After the PFA has been finalized, you may file a Motion To Reconsider or appeal to the Superior Court to have the PFA overturned.
- Getting the PFA expunged from court records. At this time, only temporary PFAs can be expunged from court records--and only if the PFA was dismissed by the judge or withdrawn by the petitioner. While the PFA will not appear on background checks anyway, expunging it from court records can eliminate all mention of the PFA from public documents, possibly averting a board investigation.
What Do I Do if the Board of Optometry Investigates My License Over the PFA?
If the board opens an investigation or raises questions about a PFA, it is best to hire an experienced attorney in professional license defense to help you respond to these concerns. An attorney can help you navigate the process and represent you before you to the board. They will also present evidence and arguments to show that the PFA doesn't affect your competence to work as an optometrist. The attorney can also negotiate with the board for a more lenient outcome that could save you from losing your license.
A PFA can have far-reaching consequences for your life, including putting your optometry license at risk—but you can avert this outcome by being proactive. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who has additional experience in professional licensing defense, and he can help protect your license while contesting the PFA.
Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.