In California professional licensing law, a second or greater drunk driving conviction seems to invite certain discipline. However, in certain circumstances, the Medical Board of California has been known to investigate and discipline physicians for a single drunk driving conviction. Although there is but a single conviction, the Board invariably seeks to paint the physician as an alcoholic, addict, or abuser of alcohol and drugs. With this mindset, the Board attempts to impose long periods of probation with draconian conditions. A probationary license does damage enough – potential loss of privileges, jeopardizing credentials, problems with insurance carriers, problems with employment and employability, and a cost of about $4,000 a year in probation fees. But drug and alcohol disciplinary cases carry with them mandated medical examinations of the physician, daily call-ins for drug and alcohol testing, frequent and expensive testing in sometimes remote locations, and possible treatment and therapy, commonly for a five year probationary period.
The Medical Board of California can find an even sometimes rather small aggravating fact to use to justify punishing a physician with a single drunk driving conviction. In 2014, the Medical Board filed an accusation against a physician who was arrested for having a blood alcohol level of 0.10%, just slightly above the legal limit. The physician was stopped by police when a CHP officer saw him run a red light. Although we can only surmise the facts from the accusation document (which I do not post here out of respect to the physician), the aggravating factor in this case in my view was that the physician sent a letter to the board in which he wrote that his conviction “was in no way related to work.” This statement can be seen as lacking an appreciation for the seriousness of the offense and minimizing the conduct, in other words, showing a failure to take responsibility. This caused the board to lose trust in the physician’s judgment.
There are several keys to successfully defending a physician who is subject to discipline for a single drunk driving conviction. An evaluation and testimony by a carefully selected expert addictionologist, combined with careful packaging and presentation of the case by an experienced attorney, can remove suspicion of alcoholism or alcohol abuse and allay the board’s public protection concerns. An attorney should be retained from the time of filing of the 802 report, through the Medical Board investigation, and continuing on to the disciplinary case if one is filed. The physician’s attorney should fight for the lowest possible penalty provided the evidence supports that outcome.
Business and Professions Code section 2239 empowers the Medical Board of California to discipline a physician for dangerous use of alcoholic beverages or drugs. The statute provides that conviction of even a misdemeanor offense involving the consumption of alcohol or dangerous drugs “constitutes unprofessional conduct” and that the record of conviction “is conclusive evidence of such unprofessional conduct”. Such a conviction can be a single drunk driving conviction or even a “wet reckless” conviction. And if the board can prove the alleged unprofessional conduct based upon evidence, a conviction may not be required at all.
For experienced legal assistance with a drunk driving conviction that must be reported, has become a Medical Board of California investigation, or has resulted in an accusation, call Ray & Bishop, PLC at 949-557-4888, or visit our website at www.calicenselaw.com.