The California Board of Acupunture investigated our client because of a complaint that the Acupuncturist had sexual relations with a patient. California law prohibits acupuncturists, physicians (doctors), dentists, chiropractors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, nurses and other health care professionals from having sexual relations with patients. (California Business and Professions Code Section 726.)
In this case, the patient's ex-spouse made the complaint and provided email communications between the patient and Acupuncturist, which showed a personal relationship but not a sexual relationship. We assisted our client in cooperating with the Board's investigation and represented our client at an interview with an investigator from the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Division of Investigation.
In this case, the investigation interview was potentially dangerous because English is not our client's first language and the word "relationship" is confusing. An Acupuncturist without an administrative law attorney might admit having "a relationship" with a patient. If an investigator misinterpreted the answer as an admission of a sexual relationship, then the Office of Attorney General would file an Accusation charging sexual misconduct. We avoided these potential dangers and the Board closed its investigation based on lack of evidence without filing an administrative action such as an Accusation or Citation.
The following factors led to a successful result in this case:
1. There was no sexual relationship;
2. We reviewed all email communications in the investigator's possession before permitting our client to answer the investigator's questions;
3. The Board's investigator conducted a full and fair investigation; and,
4. One of the parties spoke English as a second language and we proactively addressed the danger of miscommunication by careful representation at the investigation interview.
Although our client was innocent, one lesson of this case for health care practitioners is to maintain professional boundaries with all patients. We advise acupuncturists, doctors, pschotherapists and all other healthcare practitioners to avoid contact with patients that could lead to an argument over whether they had "sexual relations."
As California license defense attorneys, we represent Acupuncturists and other health care professionals in investigations and administrative hearings.