When to Seek Legal Advice

In an earlier post, I explained why you should seek an attorney as early as you can. I want to reinforce this once again. Share this advice with your friends within the profession. I'm going to take the opportunity again to show you why, using a common example.

A nursing student is graduating from nursing school. At the graduation ceremony, one of the speakers tells the nurses that when when they fill out the application for licensure at the website of the Nevada State Board of Nursing, if they are unsure whether they should check "yes" or "no" to a particular question, they should call up the Board and ask one of the staff members. This may sound like harmless advice. After all, isn't the Board going to help you know how to answer?

Before you answer, let me ask you a question; if you did something that might have violated the law, would you call up a police investigator, explain what happened, and ask them whether you committed a crime? The same logic holds true with the Nevada State Board of Nursing. They are a regulatory agency. Their job is to discipline you for violations committed and to protect the public. They are not your attorney and do not try to protect any of your rights, such as the right to remain silent. Anything you say to them can and will be used against you.

As you know, you have a duty to self-report violations, and to answer the licensure questions honestly. I'm not suggesting you do otherwise! However, sometimes nurses misread or misinterpret licensure questions. Seeking clarification from the Board regarding a particular issue can turn something that is not an issue into a big issue.

In this example of a graduating nursing student, let's develop the story. When this nurse was younger, before she went to college or nursing school, she was pulled over for driving under the influence. The police fingerprinted her, and she was put in a holding tank in jail. When the results of the breathalyzer came back, it was determined that she only had .05 percent alcohol in her blood, which is .03 below the legal limit. She was released from jail, but has now record of an arrest and has been fingerprinted.

The nurse applies for licensure. The question is asked whether she has every been convicted of a crime. She checks "no." But after the Board investigates, they pull up finger prints from the police department. Board investigators start asking questions. They call the nurse, wanting to know the full story. They know that arrests without convictions do not affect your licensure, but since you're on the phone, they're going to ask questions. Trust me on this!

What should a nurse do in that situation? Let's take two scenarios. In the first scenario, the nurse has called the board to answer their questions. Because she is licensed by the state, the nurse is anxious to answer questions. After all, her livelihood is on the line. Isn't it best to be friendly and helpful and transparent? She speaks to a Board's investigator. The nurse explains the situation surrounding the arrest, going into detail about this event that occurred 10 years ago. Now the Board investigator starts asking more questions; did you have a drinking problem back then? Not wanting to lie, the nurse answers yes, she used to party and drink a lot back then; in fact, she really "got lucky" on this occasion because by the time they tested her, her blood alcohol level had gone down." She goes on and out about how she was a binge drinker when she was younger, but not anymore. The nurse explains that she has been sober for over 7 years.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the Board Investigator. Your job is to protect the public. You don't know whether this nurse has an ongoing drinking problem or not. For years, as an investigator, you've seen nurses lie about such issues. What would you do? An investigator is almost obligated to look into this further, based upon the information that the nurse has offered. Now the Board wants to give this nurse random blood tests for the next 5 years, monitor her work and keep her away from dispensing narcotics. The nurse has dug herself into a hole that has devastating consequences. The nurse cannot put the Genie back in the bottle, and her private history of past mistakes is now permanently entered into the Nursing Board's file for the rest of her life.

What should she have done? She should have called an attorney. The attorney would have protected her from the Board's invasive questioning, answering only those questions relevant to the legal inquiry, which is, that there was no conviction.

When I get a call from a nurse, I hope I'm getting a call early enough to help avoid such unnecessary regulation, oversight and discipline. All to often, the time for taking the first ounce of prevention has already passed; only a pound of cure awaits.

PLEASE REMEMBER THIS: I DON'T CHARGE FOR A FIRST CONSULTATIONS. SOME ATTORNEYS DO, BUT I DON'T.

So, don't let your initial concern about having to pay an attorney get in the way. A call to an experienced attorney could save you time, money, and heartache. A free consultation doesn't mean we'll always have a quick answer; it doesn't mean that I can talk to you for hours on end, but I will try and give you some direction about how you can approach your situation in a 10-15 minute call or office visit. If I think you need an attorney for your situation, I'll suggest how I might help and tell you what it would cost to represent you.

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