The Alabama Board of Examinees in Education has been taken to task by the state Supreme Court over its decision to suspend Theron Michael Covin’s private practice therapist license. The Court ruled that the Board had exceeded its statutory authority by imposing such an overly broad suspension without first having given Covin a chance to defend his actions in the courts. The Board charged Covin with several counts of violating the Alabama Professional Practice Act in the form of alleged ethical violations. According to the Alabama Supreme Court, the Board could have easily suspended Covin indefinitely but chose to punish him for the actions of a single patient while he was working without supervision and the Board failed to give Covin ample opportunity to defend himself against those charges in court.
In his complaint, Covin charged that the Alabama Board of Examinees had violated the due process clause of the state Constitution by arbitrarily determining what level of professional misconduct by a licensed therapist could be found guilty of, then allowing the accused to take a medical board exam, receive a license, and engage in his practice before it was determined that he had committed any unethical behavior. In addition, the Alabama Board of Examinees in Counseling is allowed to conduct a search of the licensed therapist’s records, and the results are presented to the Board as evidence in the discipline case. Once the allegations of unethical behavior are made, the Board is allowed to do anything it wants with its findings. Although Covin was not charged with criminal behavior or with sexual harassment, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that he did have a right to present his defense at his disciplinary hearing and that the accused should have had a chance to defend himself against the allegations in court. Thus, the suspension and subsequent actions of the Board had no basis in the Alabama Code of Ethics, and the State Bar Association had no authority to remove Covin from the profession or to review the disciplinary record. Instead, the accused therapist had to defend himself in court.
The Court ruling concluded that the Alabama Board of examiners in Counseling violated Covin’s rights under the Constitution by allowing the accused to defend himself in court, in violation of the statutory provisions that bar the Board from punishing a therapist without due process of law. It also rejected the arguments of the board that a patient can be found guilty of unethical conduct even if he/she did not engage in actual or potential unethical practices; because a patient may not engage in any misconduct even if the patient does not actually commit any unethical behaviors.