Few things can wreak more havoc in your life than being served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) in Pennsylvania. A PFA can immediately prevent you from having contact with your partner and possibly your children. It may also mean that you have to leave your home or change your daily routine in order to avoid any contact with the person. And if you are a licensed professional, like a veterinarian, it can even have drastic repercussions on your professional life. A PFA can raise alarms with the State Board of Veterinary Medicine and lead to an investigation which could potentially cost you your license to practice.
However, by thinking proactively and taking action, there are things you can do to reduce the risk a PFA poses to your veterinary career. Having an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer in your corner can increase your chances of a positive outcome. Let's look at how a PFA could affect your veterinary license and what you can do about it.
Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a legal order issued by a court that orders the defendant (respondent) to stay away from the petitioner (plaintiff). PFAs are common in situations involving alleged domestic violence, stalking, or harassment. No criminal charges need to be filed against you for a PFA to be issued; the petitioner only needs to convince a judge that you pose a viable threat to them.
In most PFA cases, the first step in the process is for the judge to order a temporary PFA, which goes into effect immediately and lasts for up to 10 days until a final hearing can be scheduled. The judge can order a temporary PFA “ex parte,” meaning you are not notified nor given a chance to contest it. At the final hearing, however, you may bring an attorney to represent you, tell your side of the story, and produce evidence to refute the PFA. After the hearing, the judge will decide whether to allow the temporary PFA to expire or issue a final PFA that would last up to three years.
Does a PFA Show Up on Criminal Background Checks?
No. Since a PFA is a civil action and not a criminal conviction, it won't show up in background checks. The main exception is if you violate the terms of the PFA in any way. Doing so even by accident could cause you to be charged with criminal contempt for violating the PFA. You could face up to six months in jail if found guilty, and the conviction would then show up on a background check.
Why Would the Board of Veterinary Medicine Investigate a PFA?
Like so many other licensed professionals, veterinarians are held to high ethical and professional standards by the board that issues their license to practice. Even if no criminal charges are filed, the existence of a PFA strongly suggests that you may have violated the public trust by committing a crime of moral turpitude (e.g., domestic violence). If the State Board of Veterinary Medicine becomes aware of a protective order against you, it could initiate an investigation that could result in disciplinary action against your license.
How Might the Board Find Out About the PFA if It Isn't in My Criminal Record?
The state board may discover a PFA against you in a variety of ways. For example:
- If you're convicted of a PFA violation, it may be reported to the board
- Someone who is aware of the PFA may file a complaint with the board directly
- While the PFA won't show up on your criminal record, it will still be visible in public court records. If the board checks these records for any reason, they may find the PFA
If the board decides to launch an inquiry of the PFA and discovers evidence of misconduct or violations of their code of conduct, they may convene a formal hearing. If they decide to invoke discipline, it might result in your license being revoked or suspended.
Are There Alternative Disciplinary Actions That Would Let Me Keep My Veterinary License?
Yes, there are. Before deciding on a penalty, the board will consider a variety of factors as to why the PFA exists, and you will have a chance to share your side of the story. If the board decides not to revoke your license, they may choose to invoke a lesser penalty such as a fine, formal reprimand, restricting certain activities, or mandatory treatment or counseling. However, even these lesser actions can still potentially harm your career because any disciplinary action against your license becomes a matter of public record.
Protecting Your Veterinary License When a PFA is Issued Against You
The more proactive you are in responding to a PFA, the better your chances of avoiding an investigation or disciplinary action by the licensing board. A good Pennsylvania defense attorney will advise you of the best actions to take, but here are some practical steps you can take to minimize the risk to your license:
- Challenge the temporary PFA before it becomes finalized. If you can convince the judge at the final hearing as to why the PFA is unnecessary and should not be finalized, this will decrease the chances that the board will be alerted to the PFA.
- Appeal the final PFA to have it overturned. If you can demonstrate that the judge issued the final PFA due to an error in law or an error in fact, you can file an appeal to the Superior Court to have the PFA overturned and vacated.
- Petition to have the PFA expunged from court records. Only temporary PFAs can be expunged, and only if they were dismissed or withdrawn without being finalized. But doing so would erase all mention of the PFA from public records that might be accessed by the licensing board.
What Do I Do if the Board of Veterinary Medicine Investigates Me?
If your PFA results in a disciplinary investigation against your veterinary license, you have a better chance of keeping your license if you hire an attorney with experience in professional license defense to represent you. An experienced attorney can either intervene with the board to have the complaint dismissed or negotiate for lesser penalties. This intervention can save your license and possibly your career.
Joseph D. Lento is a Pennsylvania defense attorney who also has experience in professional license defense. If you've been served with a PFA, act now to minimize the damage to your career. Call the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation.