Being hit with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) in Pennsylvania is a difficult situation as it is, but it can be especially alarming if you're a physician assistant or other licensed professional. A PFA can bar you from contact with your significant other, force you from your home, impact your custody rights, and prevent you from owning a weapon. But a PFA can also trigger an investigation into your license with the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine, potentially putting your license in jeopardy. At worst, this action could cause you to lose your license—and by extension, your livelihood.
Your best hope of avoiding these terrible outcomes is to hire a skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to help you fight the PFA. If you're a physician assistant facing a Protection from Abuse Order, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following critical information to help you be properly informed.
What to Know About PFAs in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse Order is a civil court order designed to provide legal protection for victims of domestic violence. If a PFA is issued against you, it limits or completely bans your contact with the person who files it against you (known as the petitioner). The petitioner doesn't have to prove that you attacked them to get a PFA against you--in fact, you don't even have to be charged with a crime. The petitioner must only convince a judge that you are a credible and imminent threat to their safety. If you violate the order in any way, you could be charged with criminal contempt and penalized with up to 6 months in jail.
The first step in the process is usually for the judge to issue a temporary PFA, which goes into effect immediately and lasts for up to ten days pending a scheduled hearing. At this hearing, you may appear with your attorney and present your case as to why the PFA should not have been issued. When the hearing concludes, the judge will decide whether to allow the temporary PFA to expire or to issue a final PFA. A final PFA will stay in effect for up to 3 years.
Is the PFA a Matter of Public Record?
Yes—but not openly accessible. A PFA is a civil order, not a criminal penalty, so your PFA will not show up on criminal background checks, for example. However, any PFA, temporary or final, will be documented in court records which are made available to the public upon request. So, if someone specifically seeks to find out whether you have a PFA by requesting court records, they may be able to see it.
If I Violate the PFA and Am Convicted of Contempt, Will It Show Up on a Background Check?
Yes. While a PFA itself won't show up in criminal records, if you're convicted of violating the order, that conviction will show up on background checks. This could cause problems for you when applying for a job or a professional license.
Why Can a PFA Endanger My Physician Assistant License?
Since PAs perform many of the same functions for patients as doctors do, the Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine holds them to equally high standards of ethical and professional excellence. Any allegation of violence or a crime of moral turpitude could be seen as a breach of the public trust, even if you're never arrested or charged with a crime. A PFA, by nature, suggests that the courts deemed it necessary to protect someone from you, which casts doubt on your credibility as a physician assistant. If the board gets word of a PFA against you, it could trigger an investigation resulting in disciplinary action against your license--up to and including losing your license altogether.
How Could the Board of Medicine Be Notified of a PFA if It Doesn't Show Up on a Background Check?
The State Board of Medicine may learn of your PFA in a variety of ways, including any of the following:
- You violate the PFA and are convicted of criminal contempt--and the justice system notifies the board of your conviction
- A patient, coworker, or some other individual could file a complaint against you to the board, citing the PFA as an issue
- The board could discover the PFA by accessing court records, perhaps as part of a separate investigation
How to Reduce the Risk to Your License if Served with a PFA
When you're served with a PFA, a proactive approach is key to protecting your physician assistant license. Some steps you can take with your attorney:
- Challenge the temporary PFA before it is finalized. Take advantage of the PFA hearing to appear with your attorney and contest the PFA, providing evidence as to why it is unnecessary. If you can convince the judge not to issue a final PFA, your risk of disciplinary action is greatly reduced.
- Attempt to have your temporary PFA removed from court records. Final PFAs stay in court records indefinitely, but you can petition to have records of a temporary PFA removed if the PFA was dismissed or withdrawn before it was finalized.
- Appeal the final PFA. You may file a Motion to Reconsider within ten days after your PFA is finalized. You can also file a formal appeal within 30 days if you can show that the PFA was issued due to an error of law or fact. If your appeal is successful and the PFA is set aside, it lowers the likelihood that the board will raise concerns about you.
- Address the board's concerns directly. If the PFA does trigger an investigation with the Board of Medicine, a skilled license defense attorney can help you by providing context for the PFA, showing how it shouldn't disqualify you from practice, and negotiating for leniency. In many cases, this can save your license and/or minimize the damage done.
You've worked hard to get to this point in your career as a physician assistant; don't let a PFA put your license at unnecessary risk. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help you contest the PFA as well as help you address any concerns raised by the board. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.