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What are Stipulated Settlements

by Suzanne Taylor

The Board of Psychology receives over 600 complaints each year for alleged misconduct; so according to the law of averages, each licensee should be prepared to respond to at least one complaint during his/her career. While this is certainly an upsetting experience, it is important to note that two-thirds of complaints are closed following appropriate responses from licensees. Of the 200 remaining complaints that are referred to investigation, less than one-third result in formal charges filed. But what happens, you might ask, if the worst scenario materializes in the form of an Accusation filed against you? Will it cost you tens of thousands of dollars to defend yourself? Will it take years to resolve? First, let me explain that an Accusation is a formal legal document that sets forth the reason(s) your license is subject to discipline. Such a document always follows a thorough investigation and concurrence from the Office of the Attorney General that there is enough evidence to actually prove the charges at an administrative hearing. While these formal hearings are both time-consuming and expensive, more than 80 percent of Accusations are resolved through less expensive and more time-efficient mutual agreements called "stipulations" or "stipulated settlements."

Stipulations are legal documents that typically contain admissions by the licensee to one or more violations of law and set forth a proposal for appropriate discipline. Appropriate discipline is based on the board's Disciplinary Guidelines which outline both minimum and maximum penalties for every violation of the Psychology Licensing Act. Copies of the Disciplinary Guidelines are available upon your written request to the Board's office in Sacramento. Discipline comes in many forms and, depending on the admission(s) of misconduct, may include probation with terms and conditions, suspension, surrender of license, or even revocation. Minor violations are settled less stringently by way of reprimands, educational coursework or conferences, or perhaps an oral examination. Stipulations are negotiated between the licensee or his/her attorney and the Board's legal representative from the Office of the Attorney General. Once a stipulation is agreed upon and signed by the licensee and the Board's legal representative, the document is voted upon by the Board members. The Board votes to either adopt the stipulation, reject it, or offer a counterproposal. If the licensee does not agree with the counterproposal, s/he has the right to request a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.

Licensees who choose stipulated agreements over formal hearings waive their rights to further due process procedures and appeals and are legally bound by the terms of the penalty order, but in so doing, save time and money and often end up with the same penalty order that would result after a full administrative hearing.

In summary, if you should find yourself in the unenviable position of being served with an Accusation, it would be wise to carefully read all of the forms and instructions that are enclosed with the Accusation and to immediately retain legal counsel, although this is your personal choice and not mandatory. You should then become familiar with the Board's Disciplinary Guidelines to determine the probable penalty in your case and consider the advantages of a stipulated settlement.