If you are a professional person such as a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, etc. who is duly licensed to practice your profession in California, you know how important your license is. It is your only means of earning your living doing the work you love and for which you are highly trained. Should your licensing agency discipline you or revoke your license for an alleged infraction, you can appeal its decision by requesting a hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings.
The OAH is the special administrative court that hears virtually all licensing disputes. It is different from other courts, however, in that it is a California agency that other state agencies such as licensing boards hire to hear their cases. Nevertheless, it is a true court. The judge is impartial and hears oral testimony from witnesses, receives and reviews evidence such as exhibits, listens to closing arguments and then makes his or her decision just as any other judge does. And just like any other litigant, you can appeal the judge’s ruling if you do not agree with it.
Who acts as attorneys
A Deputy Attorney General from the California Department of Justice will “prosecute” your case on behalf of your licensing agency. You can “prosecute” your side of the case by yourself if you choose, but given that a Deputy Attorney General is a highly trained and experienced attorney, your best strategy is to hire an attorney of your own to represent you. Remember, your hearing is not an informal discussion; the OAH is a real court and abides by formal rules of evidence and other practices and procedures of which you likely are unaware.
You must initiate the OAH procedure by requesting an OAH hearing if you disagree with something your professional licensing agency does to you. The notice you receive from it will contain instructions on how to request your OAH hearing. Once you do so, the OAH will mail you a Notice of Hearing that includes the date and time of your hearing and tells you how to go about preparing for it.
Rescheduling or canceling your hearing
If you wish to reschedule your hearing, you have the right to do so by requesting a new date and time. The judge, however, has the authority to decide whether or not to grant your request. If you miss your hearing, the judge will decide your case anyway, even though you failed to appear. (S)he will send you a copy of his or her decision with instructions on how to request another hearing within a limited amount of time. If you wish to cancel your hearing, you may do so, but the OAH looks on your cancellation as your withdrawal and dismisses your case.
What happens at your hearing
You have the right to submit exhibits to the judge, and you should do so prior to your hearing. These are the documents supporting your side of the dispute that you want him or her to thoroughly read and understand before deciding your case.
At your hearing, you can testify on your own behalf and call other witnesses to testify in support of your position. The Deputy Attorney General representing your licensing agency will cross-examine you and your other witnesses. Conversely, your attorney can cross-examine your licensing agency’s witnesses. After all witnesses testify, each side, through its respective attorney, gets to present its closing argument to the judge summarizing its position and asking him or her to rule in its favor.
Appearing before the OAH is something you should consider as very serious. It is. After all, your professional license and your livelihood are at stake. It may be called an administrative hearing, but it is more like a trial that pits you against your licensing agency. As such, the better you prepare for it and the more favorable evidence you present to the judge before and during it, the more likely you will prevail.