Being a licensed speech-language pathologist is a rewarding career—but it's also one that relies heavily on public trust. In Pennsylvania, any suggestion of improper behavior, misconduct, violations of state policies, or crimes of moral turpitude can put your license in jeopardy with the State Board of Examiners in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. If you're a speech-language pathologist and have been served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA), the repercussions could be quite damaging to your career if it alerts the attention of the licensing board. The good news is that by responding proactively to a PFA, you can potentially minimize or even avert this fallout altogether. The Lento Law Firm has compiled the following critical information for speech-language pathologists who find themselves served with a PFA against them.
How PFAs Work in Pennsylvania
A Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a civil order that a judge issues protect an alleged victim of domestic violence or abuse. It prohibits the respondent (defendant) from having contact with the petitioner (plaintiff). No criminal charges need to be filed for a PFA to be issued against you; the judge simply must be convinced that you are a potential threat to the petitioner.
In most situations of alleged abuse or threats, the judge will first issue a temporary PFA, which takes effect immediately and will remain in effect until the final hearing can be scheduled (typically within ten days). At the hearing, you may have an attorney represent you, present evidence, and call and cross-examine witnesses to contest the PFA. The judge will then decide whether the temporary PFA should expire or whether to issue a final PFA that would last for up to three years.
Does a PFA Show Up on a Criminal Background Check?
No, it doesn't. A PFA is a civil order and does not constitute a criminal conviction—therefore, it doesn't show up in criminal background checks. The exception, of course, is if you violate the PFA, in which you may be arrested and charged with criminal contempt. You could spend up to six months in prison if convicted, and at that point, your conviction would generate a criminal record.
How Can a PFA Jeopardize My Career as a Speech-language Pathologist in Pennsylvania?
Since speech-language pathology is a field that relies on the public trust, the State Board of Examiners requires licensed speech-language therapists to uphold high standards of professional conduct and ethics. Although a PFA does not necessarily involve criminal charges, it does send a signal that you might have committed wrongdoing simply because someone found you to be a threat and sought legal protection from you. This could trigger an investigation into your professional license and possibly disciplinary action.
Your PFA could trigger a board investigation in any of the following ways, among others:
- If you are convicted of breaching the PFA, your resulting criminal history will almost certainly be investigated by the board.
- Someone who knows of your PFA may file a complaint directly with the licensing board (e.g., a patient, colleague, or perhaps even the petitioner requesting the PFA).
- A record of the PFA will be noted in court records. If the licensing board searches these records, they may be alerted and concerned.
If the board conducts an investigation and finds evidence of misconduct or violations of their standards due to the PFA, they might call a formal hearing to determine whether you should be disciplined. You could lose your license if they decide you have violated their policies.
Am I Guaranteed To Lose My License if the Board Decides to Discipline Me?
Not necessarily. The board will consider many factors before deciding on a penalty. Suspending or revoking your license is the worst possible outcome, but there are other, lesser penalties (including fines, formal reprimands, license restrictions, and mandatory professional counseling/treatment) that would allow you to keep your license intact. However, any disciplinary action could appear on your professional record and be visible to anyone wishing to check your credentials. It's still in your best interest to avoid an outcome that involves formal discipline.
Steps to Minimize the Risk to Your License if Served with a PFA
If you're served with a Protection from Abuse Order, the things you do next could make a huge difference in whether your speech-language pathology license comes under eventual scrutiny. A skilled attorney can advise you on which of the following strategies are best for your case:
- Challenge the temporary PFA to keep it from being finalized. The final hearing is your best chance to challenge the validity of the temporary PFA before it becomes final. If your attorney can present a convincing argument, the judge may allow the temporary PFA to be dismissed without finalizing it--reducing the chances that the PFA will haunt you in front of the licensing board.
- Appeal a final PFA. If you can make the case that the judge issued the final PFA in error, you may file a Motion To Reconsider or Appeal the PFA directly to the Superior Court in hopes that it will be overturned.
- Petition for an expungement of the PFA record. Although a PFA won't show up on your criminal record, it may still be visible in public court records. If a temporary PFA was dismissed or withdrawn without being finalized, you can petition to have it expunged from court records.
Take Action to Protect Your Speech-Language Pathology License
If your PFA raises red flags with the State Board of Examiners, it could result in disciplinary action that could cost you your license. By taking action to have the PFA dismissed or rescinded, you could greatly reduce the risk of attracting the attention of the licensing board. If you do find yourself responding to a board complaint, hiring an attorney with experience in professional license defense may help you keep your license by working to have the complaint dismissed or the penalties reduced.
Joseph D. Lento is a Pennsylvania defense attorney with experience in challenging unfair PFAs as well as professional license defense. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.