Case Studies: Managing Collateral Consequences

Dental Student Successfully Expunges Discipline Records to Avoid Future Licensure Issues

A dental program at a large public university in a Central Plains state charged our client, nearing the end of his dental education, with academic misconduct. The charges related to our client's sharing study resources, practice exams drawn from the program's exam bank, and our client's draft model answers with a study group our client was leading for newer dental students. One of the program's professors objected to the sophisticated resources and dedicated support our client was providing to those newer dental students, believing instead that those students needed to work alone to overcome their struggles. Our client, a former educator, maintained that their struggles were due to poor instruction and poor alignment with exam requirements. Their disagreement led to the misconduct charges, which the professor characterized as “cheating.” Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when the program's student affairs dean indicated his willingness to dismiss the charges but insisted on a reprimand and transcript notation. Duly concerned about triggering license issues and delays in licensure, our client expressed the goal to remove all records of discipline. Our client did not object to taking other actions to satisfy the professor and dean of his good character for dental practice. We helped our client propose to the dean that he produce a set of instructional materials for the professor to approve and contribute those materials to the professor's course resources while ceasing his other support activities. Our client was wrapping up his school duties in any case. The dean and professor accepted our client's compromise offer, enabling the dean to remove all charges and other records related to discipline. Our team achieved our client's goal of avoiding future collateral consequences of disciplinary charges.

Nursing Student Retains Child Custody After Negotiating Extra Semester Withdrawal

A nursing program at a private university in a Central Midwest state warned our client that her semesters off and light course load threatened her unsatisfactory academic progress and program dismissal. Our client was the mother of young children involved in a slow developing separation and divorce. Those domestic issues had slowed our client's nursing studies, even though our client had maintained her good grades and otherwise met program requirements. When our client needed another term off to ensure that she retained sole physical custody of her children in the divorce proceeding, and the registrar refused any relief, our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to pursue an SAP appeal or other relief. Our investigation confirmed that our client would likely be unable to meet the program's SAP standards with another term off, unless the program offered her SAP appeal relief for exigent circumstances. Before recommending that our client pursue that course and make that appeal, we helped our client communicate with the program dean and other school oversight officials who agreed to support the SAP appeal. We further helped our client obtain the registrar's commitment to accept that recommendation when the SAP appeal occurred. Executing this plan enabled our client to avoid the collateral consequence of risking the loss of her children to preserve her nursing program. Our client retained sole physical custody, returned to the program after her extra term off, and proceeded toward graduation, able to complete extra coursework. The key to our winning services was to recognize our client's priority goal and ensure that school SAP charges did not produce the collateral consequence of losing child custody.

Student in Social Work Program Avoids Criminal Charge and Discipline Risking Certification Issues

A school of social work at a public university in an Atlantic Coast state charged our client with failing to report suspected abuse of a child client and related professional misconduct. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team when the disciplinary official charging our client warned our client of potential criminal charges. Our client related that the charges arose out of our client's internship placement with a foster care agency. A client of the agency faced criminal charges for abuse and neglect of the client's foster care children. Facing public and police scrutiny, agency officials, unfortunately, shifted blame onto our client, claiming that our client had failed to report suspected abuse as state law and agency rules required. Our client maintained that the agency had not assigned her to the client but had only had her accompany an agency social worker to the client's home once when the children were napping and not visible to our client. Our client's school records, notes, and journals tended to corroborate her account. While helping our client communicate this explanation to the school's sympathetic disciplinary official, we discerned that our client's primary goal was not so much to avoid discipline, which appeared readily achievable, or to avoid criminal charges, which were unlikely under the circumstances, but to avoid lingering allegations that could delay or derail our client's certification for social work employment. We, therefore, negotiated with the school's disciplinary official for not just a procedural dismissal but an informal hearing at which the official rejected each charge after hearing our client's testimony, considering the agency's speculative assertions, and reviewing appropriate records. The factual determination and rejection of the charges gave our client a strong basis for avoiding substantial further scrutiny or delay in her future certification process.

Criminal Justice Major Avoids Discipline That Could Have Affected Firearms License and Security Clearance

Our client was a law enforcement officer taking night courses in a criminal justice graduate program. The graduate degree would qualify our client for detective, captain, and other specialty and administrative roles advancing his law enforcement career. Unfortunately, the program our client attended at a small satellite campus of a Southern state university system charged him with unauthorized possession of a firearm, ammunition, and other law enforcement equipment qualifying under the university's policy as weapons. Our client promptly retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team, realizing that the charges could affect his firearms license and security clearances necessary for his career and employment. Our client's account was that, although aware of the university's gun-free-zone restrictions, his information indicated that off-duty law enforcement officers retained their right to carry firearms and have weapons in their vehicles parked on campus. The university's sympathetic disciplinary official, under pressure from anti-gun and civil rights advocates who had reported our client, maintained that the policy clearly prohibited that conduct. Our research confirmed the official's policy position, even though our investigation revealed inconsistent enforcement. Our strategic approach involved reducing our client's educational goals in relative priority to his employment interests. Our client needed to avoid discipline more than he needed to continue and complete his education. Our client therefore authorized an offer of term withdrawal, holding the charges in abeyance so that they had no effect on our client's current employment. The term withdrawal enabled our client to manage and eliminate his employer's concerns. Our client further consented to an agreement that he not return to campus while armed, to which his employer also agreed, waiving its policy that off-duty officers should remain armed. Our client ultimately avoided all collateral consequences of the disciplinary charge, which the university abandoned the following semester.

Community College Student Avoids CDL Suspension By Effectively Contesting Drug and Alcohol Charges

Our client was a commercial truck driver attending a community college program for working students to earn an associate degree toward a career change requiring further college education. The community college, located serving a suburban area of a large Midwest metropolitan region, charged our client with alcohol and drug possession relating to an off-campus student gathering at a professional sports event. Our client and other students attending the gathering had assumed that the college's rules against alcohol consumption did not apply at the sporting event where vendors sold beer and other alcohol. But when reports that the students had embarrassed the college, and rumors that our client had offered students marijuana at the event, reached the college's disciplinary official, the official charged our client with drug and alcohol offenses. Our client held a commercial driver's license, the regulations for which required that he report drug or alcohol abuse convictions, whether related or unrelated to driving. His employer had similar requirements. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to ensure that he avoided reporting requirements that could have cost him his driving job and CDL. Our team focused on negotiating an informal resolution with the disciplinary official for dismissal of the charges. The official indicated his willingness to do so only after our team helped our client provide substantial documentation, including photographs and witness statements, that he had not misbehaved, embarrassed the college, over-imbibed, or offered marijuana in the course of the event. Our client also offered his CDL drug tests to show he was not a marijuana or other drug user. The key to our successful representation was carefully managing the disciplinary process in order to avoid trigger reporting requirements.

Student Avoids Probation Violations While Successfully Defending Title IX Charges

Our client, an undergraduate student at a small public university along the Atlantic Coast, had a prior conviction for misdemeanor assault before enrolling at the university. Our client was still under the terms of his misdemeanor sentence that would allow the court to reopen and dismiss the charge after our client satisfied sentence conditions, including staying out of legal trouble. Unfortunately, a university disciplinary investigator threatened to charge our client with a Title IX sexual misconduct violation if the investigator was unable to resolve a student complaint. A charge would have triggered a criminal probation review and may have resulted in our client's inability to overturn his prior misdemeanor conviction. Our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team as soon as the investigator requested to meet with our client. Through our prior dealings with the university on other cases, we successfully gained an adjournment and extension for the meeting, allowing us to investigate and develop a defense strategy that would avoid triggering a probation review. Our team helped our client discover the probable nature of the investigation, the likely complainant, and the evidence and information that would place the matter in its full context, showing our client's good character, good conduct, and lack of unlawful intent. We also helped our client organize his presentation and compose himself to articulate well for the investigator's benefit. Our client successfully managed the meeting with the investigator to the point that the investigator indicated his intent to conclude the investigation without charges. Our client later received a communication from the complainant acknowledging the investigation's dismissal and apologizing for the problems she may have caused him. The key to our winning representation was discerning that a charge could have been as bad as a finding of misconduct. Our adept services enabled our client to avoid his most-serious potential collateral consequences.

Undergraduate Student Preserves Family Support By Successful Defense of Disciplinary Charge

Our client was a junior student attending an elite and expensive Southern private university of which a close relative was an alumnus. Our client only gained admission to the university and afforded the university's tuition with the active and generous support of his close relative. Unfortunately, the university charged our client with academic misconduct, threatening to suspend our client for at least one semester. When our client discerned that any suspension would require his notifying his close relative and risk losing his relative's generous support, our client retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team. Our team understood that our client's overriding goal was to avoid the loss or other disruption of his rewarding relationship with his close relative. After an appropriate investigation of the factual circumstances leading to the academic misconduct charge, our team helped our client approach an influential mentor at the university for guidance on how best to navigate the charges. Following the mentor's advice, our team helped our client obtain letters of recommendation and support from certain professors and administrators. Our team also helped our student prepare a timeline and organize supporting emails, texts, and other writings, tending to explain, excuse, and mitigate our client's conduct. Our client then met with the disciplinary investigator to share these materials and inquire about options that would avoid interruption of our client's education. Our client agreed to accept, and the investigator agreed to recommend, extra academic work that would both benefit our client and satisfy the university's interest in accountability. The disciplinary office accepted the agreement and, when our client submitted proof of his completing the agreement's terms, dismissed the charge. Our client succeeded in preserving his close family relationship and generous family support.

Student Organization Leader Preserves Post by Negotiating Alternative to Discipline

Disciplinary officials at a small private college in a South Central state charged our client with cheating on an exam. Our client was the president of a prominent student organization related to her career commitments and plans. The college's disciplinary charge threatened our client's ability to continue in her student leadership post, on which she believed her most-significant faculty recommendations and references depended. Our client thus retained the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to contest the charges without triggering a suspension from her student leadership post or disruption of her faculty mentor relationships. Our team discerned that prompt early private negotiations with the college's student affairs dean and chief disciplinary official was our client's best approach. Because our team had dealt effectively with these school officials on a prior case in ways that built substantial respect and trust, our team's representative arranged to attend a meeting with both college officials, the involved professor, and our client. Our team discerned from our client's account and other information that a meeting could lead to resolution on terms that assured the professor of our client's good character, competence, and commitment to her educational development and to the school itself. We helped our client with a presentation that focused on that strategic approach, without minimizing the seriousness of the professor's allegations, which were mistaken only in part. The meeting resulted in the professor's acknowledgment that our client deserved a “second chance.” Our client agreed to submit extra work in the professor's course to preserve her course credit and well-earned grade. The college did not enter the resolution as any form of discipline, instead dismissing the charge. No party contested our client's student organization leadership position, preserving our client's goal not to suffer undue collateral consequences of the charge.

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