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Exam cheating returns to haunt accused licensee in discipline action 30 years later

A dentist who was caught having a friend take the California dental licensing exam in his place in 1982—but who obtained a California license ten years later—recently tried to argue that it was unfair to hold the 30 year old offense against him in a new disciplinary inquiry. However, the Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 2, of California disagreed.

In an April 1 ruling, the court found that the board’s 2012 decision to revoke the dentist’s license over charges of gross negligence and unprofessional conduct was authorized and fell within the board’s discretion (Spennato v. Dental Board of California).

The dentist, Peter Spennato, Jr., argued that it was double jeopardy to bring up the issue of his having cheated on the dental exam and that he had had a “pristine” record for at least 20 years of his practice as a dentist in California.

The accusations against Spennato stemmed from his 2004-2005 treatment of a patient for replacement of old crowns and bridges. The board found Spennatto had acted with gross negligence, including extreme departure from the standard of care and acts of incompetence, along with other charges.

As an aggravating factor, the accusation also noted that in July 1983, Spennato had entered into a stipulated settlement under which his application to take the dental licensing exam was denied. After failing the 1982 licensure exam, Spennato had attempted to have a classmate impersonate him and take a licensing exam in his place.

Some ten years later, after Spennato complied with penalties imposed by the California board, he was allowed to take the California exam and passed it. In his appeal of the current action based on the allegations of gross negligence he told the court he had “made his peace” with the board, that he had had a spotless record for 20 years, and that holding the exam impersonation incident against him subjected him to “a new form of double jeopardy.”

The court, referring to the exam impersonation attempt as fraud, did not agree. It found no abuse of discretion on the board’s part. In imposing revocation, the board properly considered Spennato’s prior disciplinary record including the examination incident in California, the court ruled.