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Default judgment okayed against licensee for skipping hearing

In an October 7 ruling the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts approved, a default judgment entered by the state board of pharmacy that revoked the license of a pharmacist who did not show up for the second day of his hearing, claiming problems with securing his witnesses caused the absence

(Lawless v. Board of Registration in Pharmacy).

Leo Lawless, a pharmacist, was fired from his job at Hanscom Air Force Base for “multiple patient safety adverse events.” Lawless had failed to accurately fill prescriptions, threatened his coworkers, and had even left the pharmacy unattended on occasion. In response, the board issued a summary suspension of Lawless’ license and convened a hearing to determine if it should discipline him.

To prepare for his trial, Lawless subpoenaed witness from the air force base. However, a judge advocate at the base denied the subpoenas; this caused the administrative hearing officer in charge of the case to segregate the hearings. The first two days of the four-day hearing would be devoted to the prosecution’s case in order to give Lawless time to procure his witnesses.

Although Lawless attended the first day of his hearing, he skipped the second without notice. As a result, at the end of the prosecution’s case, the hearing officer approved a default judgment against the absent pharmacist. Shortly afterward, the board revoked Lawless’ license for two years.

Lawless appealed to the state’s supreme court, arguing that the board erred when it issued a default judgment. His failure to appeal, he claimed, was the result of his witness problems, and should not have been held against him.

The Court did not agree. In its written opinion, it noted that none of Lawless’s problematic witnesses were scheduled to appear during the first three days, and Lawless had been given sufficient notice that a failure to appear would result in a default. The board had been within its authority to sanction him and its decision would be upheld.