Your client has a good job at a hospital and no criminal record, but did something dumb and was arrested. You found several inconsistencies in the evidence and spent enough time reasoning with a tough prosecutor to negotiate a great deal for your client. She pled no contest to a lesser offense and adjudication was withheld with a very minor penalty.
A job well done!
However, six months later, the same client calls you and complains that her license to practice as a respiratory therapist is unexpectedly being investigated for failing to report the plea. You didn’t represent her with regard to her occupational license, but it doesn’t change the fact that the client now blames you for the possible loss of her career. Although it may be unfair, criminal practitioners are increasingly required to know all the repercussions of various pleas and when to advise a client to report an arrest, conviction or plea.
Many lawyers are not aware that clients engaged in a variety of professions who plead to criminal offenses are required to report those pleas to Florida licensing agencies. Some licensing boards limit the types of criminal pleas that can result in discipline, but almost all require reporting of the plea itself. For nurses, contractors, CPAs, teachers, cosmetologists and other licensed professionals, there is a reporting requirement aft er any criminal plea.
Generally, licensing boards require that any pleas be reported, including pleas of no contest. Failure to report within 30 days is generally grounds for disciplinary action; although, the specific reporting requirements differ.
Reporting is relatively easy for persons licensed by Florida agencies. Failing to report can result in significant penalties and there are rarely any available defenses for failure to report. Additionally, when a client has licenses in multiple states, there is oft en an obligation to report a criminal disposition in each of those states. Unfortunately, licensed professionals sometimes fail to report to all the states in which they are licensed.
A particularly nasty feature of most licensing statutes is the fact that discipline in one state can automatically result in discipline in another. Therefore, if your Florida client reports a criminal disposition in Florida, but is also licensed in the state of California or Michigan and fails to report to that state, another state’s disciplinary action can result in a penalty to the Florida license. Such a domino effect can severely hamper a client’s ability to pursue his or her profession and thus, practitioners need to be careful to comply with all licensing requirements.
Just because a criminal offense is reported, however, doesn’t mean that the client’s license will be revoked, or even disciplined. Generally, a license may only be disciplined when the criminal offense directly affects the conduct of the profession. Ultimately, it may take a hearing before an administrative law judge with the Division of Administrative Hearings to determine whether the offense is related to the profession, or whether the evidence is sufficient to establish a violation. There are some substantial defenses available in license-discipline proceedings, including the right against selfincrimination and the right to have the case proven by clear and convincing evidence.
In the majority of cases, penalties less than revocation are imposed and it is often the case that lesser penalties can be negotiated. Additionally, some cases are diverted at the probable cause stage, or probable cause is not found aft er an investigation. Of course, administrative cases against licensees arise out of a variety of situations, not just criminal dispositions, but criminal pleas are a major source of license discipline. Thomas A. Delegal, III