Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
Investigations and Disciplinary Actions
In Fiscal Year 2007 (September 1, 2006 to August 31, 2007), the Board conducted 492 investigations and took disciplinary action in 44 cases. The penalties ranged from monetary fines to revocation of a license and all points in between. The Board is focused on prompt investigations and litigation. The Board’s new General Counsel, Nicole Oria, is an experienced litigator. The Board is more willing to take matters to SOAH to gain the sanction the Board believes is necessary. The agency is currently facing a record year in SOAH years.
By law there are currently nine members of the Board, six are licensed veterinarians and three are public members.
As can be seen above, Board is aggressive in its investigations and the chance of having restrictions placed on one’s license is increasing. It is crucial for veterinarians to understand the Board’s role and the process that a veterinarian undergoes if he/she is under investigation.
The investigation portion of the disciplinary process with the Board starts when the veterinarian is notified of the investigation by mail, unless doing so would jeopardize the Board's investigation. This letter informs the veterinarian that he/she has an opportunity to respond to the allegations within thirty days and that they can be represented by an attorney. This initial response is the one of the most critical actions in the investigation. It sets the tone and establishes the evidence for the whole process. Doing this right the first time may result in a faster resolution to the investigation.
The Board’s investigator will request various records pertaining to the allegations, such as medical records, medication logs, witness statements, and other information related to the investigation. Occasionally, the Board investigator will go in person to the veterinarian’s practice. Once the veterinarian has responded and the investigator has obtained all pertinent information, the investigator makes a recommendation regarding the allegations and what the evidence has shown. The information obtained by the investigator is presented to senior staff and an ultimate decision is made regarding the disposition of the case. The case may be dismissed, or the case is set for an Informal Conference.
Informal Settlement Conference
While this proceeding is called an “Informal” Conference, it is not an informal proceeding. The informal means the rules of procedure and evidence do not apply. At the Informal Conference, the allegations and evidence are presented to Board members and those members then ask questions of the veterinarian. The veterinarian and his/her attorney are allowed to provide evidence and other mitigating information for the members to take into consideration. After all the information is presented and questions are asked, the members convene separately and discuss the information presented during the Informal Conference. The veterinarian is then called back into the meeting room and the Board presents their decision. The veterinarian knows the recommendation prior to leaving the Board’s offices. The recommendations can be a dismissal, or a proposed Agreed Order or the case is referred directly to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings [SOAH].
If the evidence shows a violation of the Veterinary Licensing Act or the Board’s rules and regulations, the Board may propose a settlement offer in the form of a proposed Agreed Order. The Agreed Order will state the allegations against the veterinarian, the sections of the law that have been violated and the restrictions being placed on the individual’s license. The restrictions can be varied and may include educational courses, job restrictions, a fine, employer notifications, supervision requirements, counseling requirements, practice restrictions and other actions deemed necessary. If there are any mitigating factors in the veterinarian’s case, the severity of the restrictions may be decreased. The length of the Agreed Order can vary depending on individual circumstances. Agreed Order can be negotiated.
If the veterinarian agrees with the proposed Agreed Order, the veterinarian signs the order and the Order is presented to the Board for ratification. The Board may either ratify the Order as is, or suggest a modification, or reject the Order. If the Order is accepted by the Board, a final copy of the signed Order is mailed to the veterinarian and to the veterinarian’s attorney. The disciplinary action is entered onto the Board’s website and printed in the quarterly newsletter. All of the Board’s disciplinary actions are public information and become a permanent part of the veterinarian’s license, which means that even when the stipulations are completed and the veterinarian’s license becomes “clear”, the veterinarian will always have a disciplinary action record.
The hearing process begins with the filing of Formal Charges with SOAH and sets a hearing date. Hearings are similar to trials except that the proceeding is before an Administrative Law Judge instead of a judge/jury and some of the evidence and procedural rules are different. The Board has the burden to prove the allegations against the veterinarian and the veterinarian is allowed to present his/her side of the case. After the completion of the hearing, the Judge will issue his or her proposal for decision, which contains findings of fact and conclusions of law and recommended actions. This proposal for decision is presented to the Board and the Board either accepts the Judge’s recommendations or the Board rejects all or part of the Judge’s recommendations and substitutes their own, in limited circumstances. The recommendations may be a dismissal, or proposed restrictions on the veterinarian’s license, a suspension of the veterinarian’s license, or a revocation of the veterinarian’s license. If a veterinarian disagrees with either the SOAH Judge or the Board’s substituted Order, the veterinarian may appeal the process to District Court.
This can be a timely and burdensome process. It is wise to be prepared and assistance of an attorney knowledgeable in this process to help you navigate these difficult processes preserves your rights and protects your livelihood.