Mike Tomino, Board Legal Counsel
I would like to take the opportunity to respond to
questions we receive at times regarding complaints received by the LBVM
and its investigative protocol, more particularly the initial step of
sending a certified letter of inquiry to the veterinarian.
At the outset, it can be stated that no veterinarian who
receives such a certified letter is overjoyed. Furthermore, sending a
certified letter to a veterinarian is not my favorite task for the LBVM,
and I can assure you that sitting in judgment of a peer is very difficult
for the LBVM members.
However, such obligations are part of our respective
jobs, and our duty. I attempt to make such a potentially emotional
situation more bearable by informing the recipient that “please understand
the LBVM is not making accusations, but merely conducting an inquiry based
upon information it has received. The LBVM is obligated by law to make
On occasion, I hear a certain comment from a recipient
of a letter of inquiry that any disgruntled client can file a complaint.
Such a comment cannot be seriously disputed. But, such a reality is part
and parcel of the privilege of providing professional services to the
public. More importantly, there is the element of accountability. The LBVM
receives approximately 60+ new complaints per year. Not all are filed by
clients, but even if they were, I am sure that you will agree that out of
the hundreds of veterinarians attending to the animals owned by thousands
of clients in LA during the year does not support the perception that mere
unhappy clients are rampantly filing unfounded complaints.
I have been representing regulatory boards in LA since
December 1987, and every now and then I hear harsh and undue criticism
regarding a regulatory board’s handling of these matters, including the
LBVM. Therefore, I will address the LBVM’s protocol and its reasoning.
First, the LBVM is obligated to follow-up on any and all
complaint information it receives. It is a consumer protection agency. The
LBVM does not actively solicit the filing of complaints. All
investigations are handled in the same manner as all other consumer
Everyone is treated the same in each and every case–both
veterinarians and consumers comply with the identical protocol.
Since the law requires the LBVM to conduct an inquiry
regarding all complaints submitted by the public, what can be more simpler
than directly contacting the veterinarian by mail to respond. In fact, a
certified letter is required by law to be sent to verify receipt.
Obviously, it is hard to dispute that obtaining the veterinarian’s version
of what occurred is paramount as the first step in the inquiry.
Unfortunately, no one has the mystical power to weigh the validity of a
new complaint simply by reading the allegations initially made to the LBVM
office. A written response from the veterinarian is necessary.
Perhaps, some recipients would like to “personally chat”
with a LBVM member about the complaint first and, then “if necessary,”
respond in writing. This cannot and will not occur. I do not intend to
waste your time explaining what you should already know, but for the sake
of making the point, again please remember that the LBVM is a consumer
protection agency and how would such an approach be viewed legally and
legitimately by interested parties, both governmental and private. Please
consider the potential for the LBVM to be abolished due to “white washing”
accusations resulting in another agency, or super board, assuming the
legal authority to regulate you and the practice of veterinary medicine.
Perhaps the “other agency or super board” is not comprised of
veterinarians who would know your profession and its nuances, or may have
interests in conflict with your current practices. Need I go further on
Second, no formal charges are filed against the
veterinarian prior to sending the certified letter of inquiry. The
certified letter of inquiry is the initial step. We are simply attempting
to obtain all possible pertinent information so that an informed decision
can be made regarding the disposition. It is hoped that you understand a
thorough gathering and review of “both sides’ version of events” at the
inquiry stage is far better for all concerned, than hastily filed formal
charges with the sorting out of facts at a public hearing—which is the
alternative to the current protocol.
In fact, the vast majority of complaints are closed once
all pertinent information is received and reviewed.
Third, the LBVM cannot, and would not, take any action
against a licensee without the veterinarian first receiving a written
notice of the formal charges and the opportunity for a public hearing. If
formal charges are filed against a veterinarian, they will be done so by
the LBVM member reviewing the inquiry, and not the consumer. At a formal
hearing, the other LBVM members, all of whom are veterinarians, will
render a decision after carefully weighing pertinent evidence presented to
them. Again, at a public hearing the veterinarian accused of wrongdoing
will have the opportunity to present evidence to the whole LBVM including
documents and witness testimony.
You may wish to read Rule 1400 et seq. which clearly
sets forth the investigative/disciplinary process, which includes
dispositions by Consent Order when applicable. When the evidence supports
a finding of wrongdoing, a Consent Order is the generally preferred form
of resolution by both the LBVM and the veterinarian
Again, the laws and protocol are in place to insure the
protection of the public which is the LBVM’s obligation mandated by law,
as well as maintain the standards of practice regarding veterinary care.
As a licensed professional, you are also part of these objectives and
should take satisfaction in knowing that the Board is discharging its
duty. After all, the LBVM is just the vehicle, its professional licensees
actually regulate the practice to maintain these standards. What would
happen to these standards if the LBVM would “pick and choose” which
inquiries it would conduct by a cursory review of the complaint and/or by
a superficial determination of the motive/status of the person submitting
The true intent of the investigative/disciplinary
process is to correct wrongful behavior if such is ultimately determined
to have occurred. It should be viewed as an educational endeavor for the
veterinarian. I can assure you that neither the LBVM nor I relish
receiving a complaint made against a licensee. However, part of the
function of the LBVM in regulating your profession is to follow-up on all
The LBVM is very active due to the number and diverse
types of matters presented (the investigative process being only a
significant minority), and I invite you to attend a board meeting to see
the process in action and what topics are facing your profession. At
present, for example, a very intense Legislative Session is keeping us
rather busy. And, in closing, constructive suggestions based on informed
opinions are always welcome.