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  • Justin Hein

Understanding the Importance of Character Evidence

Character evidence in licensing matters proves to the agency the licensee has actualized their wrongdoing, harm, and breach of trust.


License discipline hearings provide ample opportunity for a licensee to engage in necessary behaviors to demonstrate to the licensing agency that they understand the alleged wrongdoing, understand the harm it has done to the profession and community, and understand the breach of trust the agency once had in the individual licensee. Even if falsely accused of the wrongdoing, a licensing defending oneself would be foolish not to confront these aspects by collecting evidence of competence, elimination of the underlying flaw or risk, and proving they are the personification of the ideal professional for that agency in their community.

While these are not things one can whip-up on the eve of the hearing, they are items that do not require years to demonstrate. Rather the 90-270 days between notice of an Accusation to the actual hearing is more than enough time to earn some of these badges.


Competency to Practice

Demonstrating sufficient competency to practice is always the primary goal in professional licensing matters. However, it is not solely demonstrating one's skills and knowledge within the profession. It is also understanding the expectations and requirements to acquire and maintain the license.


The process of evidencing one’s ability to practice in a particular field and can be done several ways. For instance, some professionals should attend continuing education courses that counter the allegations of the disciplinary action. A physician being disciplined for poor record keeping will be asked to attend a record keeping course. The certificates of completion evidence their ability to practice medicine and further show the Medical Board of California they are not a danger to the public.


Another example would be for any professional who faces discipline due to a substantially related criminal conviction. In such an instance, that professional should find an appropriate continuing education course for the professional that address ethics and boundaries.


Also, building upon one's credentials through taking additional training. This is not continuing education, but rather pursuing advance degrees or licensing through one's profession. Think vocational nurse to nurse practitioner, paralegal to attorney, salesperson to broker, etc.


But it is not just the book smarts of the profession or the profession's ethical responsibilities. It is also demonstrating that one can actually, day-by-day, practice the profession with competency. And that is best demonstrated through employment. Find a job. Do the job well, and you add to the mosaic demonstrating that competence. In particular, think at the granular level - attendance, punctuality, complying with internal policies and procedures, meeting the terms of your job description, exceeding expectations in quality and quantity of work, acquiring commendations from colleagues and customers, receiving positive performance reviews, etc. All of this goes to competency as a professional.


Demonstrate Elimination of Character Flaws

Confronting personal flaws through responsible behavior can be challenging - for any person. And all too often individuals realize they cannot do not alone. Yet, they do not take that step of getting help.


When a professional finds themselves within the cross-hairs of a disciplinary body - whether it be licensing, peer review, or an association - because of those flaws, it should be a wake up call to do more. With proper guidance and instruction, hopefully the professional will be directed to appropriate resources to get the help they need.


That help could come in a variety of ways. For example, maybe the quagmire was caused because of financial problems. Confront that problem by beginning work with a financial professional. Or, maybe it substance abuse. Again, confront that problem by beginning work with a substance abuse professional. Counseling, therapy, family, exercise, nutrition - all of these issues could be a factor. And all can be confronted through third party, professional help.


Obtaining third party help comes with the additional benefit of having a way to document that you are actualizing the problem and confronting it. And that can be presented in defending oneself in a licensing matter.


Become an Asset to the Community

When facing license discipline, keep in mind the mentality of the discplining agency. They had entrusted you with a license and are now contemplating taking it away. Why? Because something took place that violated their rules. And they no longer trust you to be able to stay within the expectations of the profession.


You are now fighting to earn that trust back. As indicated above, that can be done through addressing competency and the underlying demons that caused your error in judgment in the first place. But do not short change an additional component - demonstrating that you are the type of professional the licensing agency wants to represent it in the community.


First, that may involve breaking ties with, and staying away from, some individuals in the community that are associated with your own prior mistakes, criminal histories, or drug or alcohol connections. Unless they too are working to reform their behavior, the unsavory connection to the past will indicate to the agency that you have not changed.


Second, pick ways to be involved in giving and contributing to the community in a new and exemplary way. Choose from any and all of the universe of good deeds. Volunteer at shelters (homeless, animal, domestic violence, children); coach a kids’ sports team; walk for a charity’s fund-raising effort. The community’s needs for charitable and civic contributions are, sadly, endless. No matter how busy, tired, broke, depressed, pre-occupied, stressed-out or otherwise needy the applicant or licensee feels at this time, there is no getting around the fact that charitable and civic activities count.


Finally, ask for letters of personal knowledge pertaining to character and reputation for integrity, honesty and truthfulness from ALL friends and relatives and from any present or former employers, co-workers, neighbors, customers or clients, pastors or spiritual counselors, psychotherapists, probation and parole officers—anyone who has a basis for personal knowledge. There cannot be too much evidence of personal attestations of good character. Each letter needs be no more than a paragraph or two—a page at most; each one will count heavily.


Conclusion

Individuals and/or businesses facing disciplinary action are generally facing revocation of their applicable license, which has significant ramifications, the most obvious of which is the ability to earn a living and provide for his/her family. Fear of losing one’s livelihood is traumatic. But defending against that outcome can be done. Even in a case with evidence of innocence regarding the alleged wrongdoing, targeted and diverse character evidence is critical. Hopefully this provides you with some guidance as it relates to what can be used to evidence one’s ability to practice his/her profession.


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© 2019 Hein, Esq.       418 B Street, 4th Floor, Santa Rosa, CA 95401        707-921-3913        justin@heinesq.com

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