Being served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) in Pennsylvania is a disruptive and difficult moment for anyone--but the repercussions of a PFA can extend beyond your personal life into your career, as well. If you are a licensed professional engineer, for example, the existence of a PFA could raise red flags with the Pennsylvania State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists, possibly triggering an investigation and disciplinary actions. At worst, you could lose your license.
All is not lost, however. If you are proactive in your approach in contesting a PFA, you could prevent major problems for your engineer's license down the road--especially with the help of an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. Let's look at how a PFA could affect your license and what you can do to avoid the worst.
Understanding PFAs in Pennsylvania
A Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a civil order that grants protection to victims of domestic violence, stalking, harassment, and other forms of abuse. The petitioner (or plaintiff) is the one who requests the PFA, and the respondent (or defendant) is the person served with the order. A PFA prohibits you from having contact with the petitioner--which in itself can create upheaval in your life. You could be forced to move out of your home, change your routine to avoid running into the petitioner, and possibly even lose custody of your children while the PFA is in effect. A PFA can also remain in effect even if no criminal charges are ever filed.
How PFAs Are Issued in Pennsylvania
The first step in most PFA cases is for the judge to grant a temporary PFA, which goes into effect immediately pending a hearing (which typically occurs within ten days). This PFA is usually issued “ex parte,” meaning without the defendant present to respond. Once served with the temporary PFA, you must immediately cease contact with the petitioner or face criminal charges.
A final hearing will be held within ten days of the temporary PFA being issued. At this hearing, you may bring an attorney and offer evidence to defend against the PFA. At the conclusion of the case, the court will determine whether to terminate the temporary PFA or issue a final PFA. If a final PFA is issued, it remains in effect for up to three years.
Violating a PFA
If you violate the terms of your PFA, even by accident, you may face criminal contempt charges. If convicted, you could face up to six months in jail, and the resulting criminal record could raise alarms with the licensing board. Make sure you read and understand the terms and restrictions of the PFA, so you abide by them to the letter.
How a PFA Might Jeopardize Your License as a Professional Engineer
The state licensing board holds engineers to certain standards of professional conduct to safeguard the public trust. The existence of a PFA suggests that the public trust has been broken because someone alleges you were violent or a threat to them, and the courts believed them. This could be enough to trigger an investigation by the State Registration Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists.
The board could be alerted to your PFA in any of the following ways, among others:
- If you're convicted of violating the PFA, the criminal conviction could alert the board and trigger an investigation
- Someone who knows about the PFA could file a complaint against you with the board. (For example, a colleague, client, employer, or even the petitioner)
- The board might review court documents during a separate investigation and discover the PFA's existence
If the board launches an investigation and they find evidence of wrongdoing or violations of their standards as a result of the PFA, they may call a formal hearing. If they decide to invoke discipline, it could mean having your license suspended or revoked.
Are There Ways To Keep My Engineer's License Even if the Board Disciplines Me?
Yes. The worst-case scenario is to lose your license, and the board may choose to invoke lesser forms of discipline depending on the circumstances behind the incident, your cooperation with the investigation, and your attorney's input. Disciplinary actions may include fines, formal reprimands, professional counseling/treatment, license restrictions, or probation. However, bear in mind that any discipline against your license becomes a matter of public record, so it could still affect your career negatively even if you're permitted to keep your license.
Will the PFA Show Up on Criminal Background Checks?
No, it won't. A PFA is a civil matter, not a criminal one, so it won't appear on background checks. However, if you violate the PFA and are convicted of criminal contempt, that conviction will show up on your criminal record. Additionally, the PFA itself will be recorded in public court records, so if the licensing board searches these records for any reason, they may see the record of your PFA.
Steps to Safeguard Your Professional Engineer's License After a PFA
The more proactive you can be in dealing with a Protection from Abuse Order, the better your chances of avoiding disciplinary action by the board. The steps you can take include the following:
- Contest the temporary PFA before it becomes final. If you and your attorney can present evidence that the temporary PFA should not have been issued, the judge may dismiss it and not issue a final PFA, lessening the chances that it will trigger an investigation into your license.
- Appeal the PFA. If the judge issued a final PFA due to error in fact or error in law, you can file a Motion To Reconsider or appeal to the Superior Court to have the PFA overturned.
- Request an expungement. If the temporary PFA was dismissed or the petition was withdrawn before it became final, you can petition to have all records of the PFA expunged from court records as an additional protective measure.
If Your PFA Triggers a Board Investigation...
If the PFA does result in an investigation into your engineering license, your best chance of keeping your license and minimizing the damage is to hire an attorney with specific experience in professional license defense. A skilled attorney can present convincing arguments that demonstrate how the PFA is not reflective of your ability to do your job, as well as negotiate for leniency, so your license is not suspended or revoked.
Don't let a PFA jeopardize your career as a professional engineer. Attorney Joseph D. Lento can help you fight the PFA in court to prevent it from affecting your professional license. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.