Licensed professionals under investigation in California are entitled to due process under procedures set out in the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA provides the framework for disciplinary proceedings for most professional licenses. Some agencies, such as the State Bar of California, follow separate procedures.
As a licensed professional, you are entitled to advance notice if you are under investigation and could be subject to discipline. Typically, you’ll receive an accusation or statement of issues notice by mail, which is why it’s so important to maintain a current mailing address with your licensing agency. In fact, depending on the agency, failure to keep your address current can be a basis for professional discipline.
Hearing before an administrative law judge
If you receive an accusation or statement of issues, you’re entitled to an administrative hearing, which is a special type of trial held in front of an impartial administrative law judge (ALJ). During the hearing, both parties may present evidence and call witnesses. Licensees and license applicants have no right to free legal representation at a hearing, though they may retain an attorney. The California Office of the Attorney General or agency counsel always represents state agencies at administrative hearings.
After weighing evidence from the licensee or applicant and the agency or board, the ALJ writes a proposed decision. For a license applicant, the ALJ must typically decide whether an application should be granted or denied. If an application is granted, it may be subject to probation or other conditions, or may be accompanied by a public letter of reprimand. For a license holder, the ALJ must decide whether to impose discipline on the professional license, which can include a written warning, public letter of reprimand, terms of probation, license suspension, license revocation, or other disciplinary actions.
The conclusion of an ALJ at the end of an administrative hearing is known as a proposed decision. The proposed decision typically contains findings of fact, as well as proposed discipline to be taken against the professional license. However, a “proposed” decision is just that. The state licensing agency or board must adopt the decision board before it takes effect. Although agencies typically adopt the ALJ’s decisions, they have the power to reject the decisions. If the agency rejects the ALJ’s proposed decision, the agency or board will decide the case on the evidence presented at the hearing after written and/or oral arguments from you or the attorney representing you.
Superior Court Review
To challenge an agency’s decision, you are entitled to seek review by a California Superior Court. The Superior Court judge will review the ALJ’s decision and the agency’s actions to ensure the law has been correctly applied to the facts of the case and that a fair procedure has been provided pursuant to the APA. A Superior Court judge’s decision may also be reviewed.