Few things can upend your life faster than being served with a Protection from Abuse Order or PFA. In Pennsylvania, being served with a PFA may mean you are immediately banned from contact with your significant other (and possibly your children); it can also require you to move out of your home, change your daily routine to avoid contact with the person, and more. A PFA can, unfortunately, have other consequences for your professional career, as well. If you are a licensed psychologist, for example, the PFA 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 create problems with the State Board of Psychologists, triggering an investigation and possibly costing you your license to practice.
For this reason, the more proactive you can be about contesting your PFA, the better. Your odds of success are much greater with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney in your corner. Let's take a look at how a PFA can affect your psychologist's license and what you can do about it.
Understanding How PFAs Work in Pennsylvania
A Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a civil order issued by a judge which bans the respondent (defendant) from contact with the petitioner (plaintiff). PFAs are frequently issued in cases involving alleged domestic violence, stalking, harassment, etc., between spouses, domestic partners, dating partners, cohabitants, and live-in family members. A PFA can be in effect even if no criminal charges are ever filed.
Most Protection from Abuse cases begin when the judge issues a temporary PFA. This order goes into effect immediately and remains in effect until a final hearing can be scheduled (typically within ten days). At the final hearing, you may bring an attorney and offer evidence to contest the PFA and demonstrate why it should not have been issued. The judge then decides whether to allow the temporary PFA to expire or to issue a final PFA, which would last up to 3 years.
Does a PFA Appear on Criminal Records?
No. A PFA is not a criminal conviction and can exist without any criminal charges being filed. This is a civil order, and as such, it won't show up in background checks--with one glaring exception. If you violate the terms of the PFA in any way--even incidentally--you could be arrested and charged with criminal contempt. If convicted, you could face up to 6 months in jail, and at that point, the conviction would appear on a background check. Additionally, prosecutors charge you with domestic violence or other crimes related to the PFA, these could also show up on your criminal record if you are convicted.
Why Is the Board of Psychology Concerned About a PFA?
Licensed psychologists are held to high standards of professional and ethical conduct by the Board of Psychology because they must maintain public trust. Any indication that the public trust has been violated by an act of misconduct or a crime of moral turpitude will generate concern by the board. Even though a PFA may not involve criminal charges, it sends a message that someone considers you a threat to their safety, and a judge agreed with them. This could be enough to trigger an investigation and possible disciplinary action against your license.
The board may be notified of your PFA in one or more of the following ways, among others:
- If you're convicted of a PFA violation, the board will almost certainly examine your criminal record
- A patient, colleague, employer, etc. might report your PFA to the licensing board
- During a separate investigation, the board may come across court records that reveal the PFA's existence
If the board launches an investigation and discovers evidence of misconduct or breaches of their quality standards as a result of the PFA, they may hold a formal hearing. If they decide to impose punishment, it might result in losing your license for good.
Is There a Way To Keep My Psychologist's License Even if the Board Disciplines Me?
Yes. The board will take many factors into account before deciding on a penalty, and suspending or revoking your license is the worst-case scenario. Other, lesser penalties might include fines, formal reprimands, mandatory professional counseling/treatment, license restrictions, etc.--all of which would allow you to continue practicing. However, you still want to avoid these forms of discipline if possible because any disciplinary action could still appear on your public record and damage your professional reputation.
How To Protect Your Psychologist's License After a PFA Is Issued Against You
You have a better chance of avoiding any disciplinary action from the board if you are proactive in contesting a Protection from Abuse Order, preferably with the help of a good attorney. The following strategies can all reduce your risk of being brought before the board:
- You can contest the temporary PFA before it becomes permanent. If you contest the PFA at the final hearing and can present evidence to show it was not necessary, the judge may dismiss it without finalizing it. This will reduce the chance that your license will come under investigation.
- You can appeal a final PFA. You can file a Motion to Reconsider or appeal to the Superior Court if the judge issued the final PFA due to an error in fact or law.
- You can request an expungement of a PFA from court records. If a temporary PFA was never finalized because it was dismissed by the judge or withdrawn by the petitioner, you can petition to have all mention of the PFA removed from court records--again reducing your chances that the board will take issue with it.
If Your PFA Triggers a Board Investigation
An attorney who has experience in professional license defense is the best person to help you if your PFA results in an investigation or disciplinary action against your license. A good attorney can negotiate with the board for leniency or dismissal of the complaint by demonstrating why the PFA should not have been issued or why it has no bearing on your current practice. This intervention could very well save your license and your career.
Joseph D. Lento is a Pennsylvania defense attorney who also has experience in professional license defense. Take action now to keep a PFA from damaging your psychology practice. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.