The Discipline Process

courtroom with flagHow the Lawyer Discipline Process Works

What happens after a bar charge is filed?
Do not wait to explore other possible remedies!
What discipline can be imposed?
What are the alternatives to discipline?
How do I initiate a bar charge against a lawyer?

What happens after a bar charge is filed? 
If you initiate a charge against a lawyer, bar counsel will review the allegations to determine whether an investigation is appropriate. If an investigation is appropriate, bar counsel will give the lawyer written notice of the allegations and the lawyer will be asked to submit a written response to those allegations. In most cases, you will receive a copy of that response. You may be asked to provide additional information based on that response. 

If your information does not meet the threshold for an investigation, you will be notified of that fact. The lawyer will receive notice of the charge for informational purposes.

If, after investigation, the State Bar determines that there is enough information to believe that the lawyer violated the ethics rules and there is clear and convincing evidence to show the violation, formal disciplinary charges may be filed against the lawyer. Under those circumstances, a hearing may be held, and you may be required to appear as a witness.

Do not wait to explore other possible remedies 
Do not delay in exploring other possible remedies you may have against the lawyer simply because you have filed a bar charge. You can lose valuable legal rights if you wait for the conclusion of the State Bar's investigation. If you want to find out if you have other remedies against the lawyer, you should contact private counsel. If you believe a lawyer has acted illegally, you should report that conduct to appropriate prosecuting authorities. The State Bar's staff lawyers cannot give you legal advice or tell you what you should do.

What discipline can be imposed? 
If the charge against a lawyer is found to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, the lawyer may be required to pay restitution, ordered to pay costs, be issued an admonition, be placed on probation, reprimanded, suspended, or disbarred.

What are the alternatives to discipline? 


Diversion
The State Bar has established diversion programs that concentrate on helping the lawyer change his or her practices. The programs are designed to address acts of ethical misconduct that typically can be linked to poor law office management, chemical dependency, or other behavioral problems.

Diversion is not an alternative to discipline in cases of serious misconduct or which factually present little hope that diversion will achieve program goals. Diversion may be considered in cases where the sanction would be a reprimand or less. Successful completion of diversion results in the underlying matter being dismissed.

Currently the State Bar has several diversion programs, which include the use of the following: Law Office Management Assistance program (LOMAP), Member Assistance Program (MAP), Trust Account Ethics Enhancement Program (TAEEP), and the Trust Account Program (TAP).

How do I initiate a bar charge against a lawyer? 
Discipline proceedings begin when you contact the State Bar and complain about a lawyer's conduct that indicates the lawyer may have engaged in misconduct or may be incapacitated. You should call the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program to discuss your problem prior to writing to the State Bar. 

Definitions
Charges are handled in several ways
Prescreening
Screening
Probable Cause
Formal proceedings
Arizona Supreme Court

Definitions 
In the following explanation, several terms are introduced which are explained as follows:


"Charge" is a specific allegation against a lawyer.

"Respondent" is a lawyer who must respond to charges.

"Complainant" is the individual(s) making the charge against the lawyer.

"Bar Counsel" is a lawyer employed by the State Bar who reviews, investigates and/or prosecutes charges.

Charges are handled in several ways 

1. Charges are dismissed if the lawyer's conduct does not violate the Rules of Professional Conduct contained within Rule 42, Ariz. R. Sup. Ct., or other applicable Supreme Court Rules.

2. Charges may be referred to the Peer Review Program or other appropriate remedial programs when the lawyer has not violated the Rules of Professional Conduct but has shown incivility or unprofessionalism toward clients or others.

3. Low-level violations or client relation problems may be resolved by the Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program.

4. If the charge againsts a lawyer is found to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, the lawyer may be referred to a diversion program, required to pay restitution, assessed costs, issued an admonition, reprimanded, suspended or disbarred.

Prescreening 
Bar proceedings begin when information alleging unprofessional conduct, misconduct or incapacity is received. Each charge is reviewed to determine whether it can be resolved in A/CAP or must be further investigated or "screened." The State Bar may, in the exercise of its discretion, refer the matter for a full investigation if the alleged conduct would warrant the imposition of a sanction.  

Screening 
When a case is screened, the complainant is notified, and the lawyer is given written notice of the investigation and the nature of the allegations.  The lawyer is asked for a written response and has twenty days to provide the response.  Extensions of time to answer may be granted for good cause.

Bar counsel forwards a copy of the respondent's response to the complainant, unless a request for confidentiality is granted. The complainant may be asked to provide further information based on the response. In addition, an investigator is assigned to each case.  The investigator and assigned bar counsel will conduct interviews, obtain records or other necessary information and undertake appropriate research.  Bar counsel will then have all the necessary information needed to make a recommendation about what should happen next. 

Probable cause review 
Once bar counsel have sufficient information to recommend how a charge should be resolved, they prepare an investigative report of the file. The report and recommendation are submitted to the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee ("Committee"), who decides whether there is enough evidence to continue on to formal proceedings or whether another course of action is appropriate. Recommendations to the committee may include: diversion, probation, restitution, admonition, reprimand, costs, probable cause to file a complaint, probable cause to file a disability petition, or stay. If there is enough evidence to continue to formal proceedings, the committee will issue a probable cause order. Both the lawyer and complainant are notified of the recommendation and are given an opportunity to provide a written response to the Committee. 

Formal proceedings 
Once a probable cause order is issued, bar counsel prepares a complaint and represents the State Bar in the formal disciplinary proceedings. Formal proceedings begin when bar counsel files a complaint with the Disciplinary Clerk. 

The respondent's answer is due within 20 days after service of the complaint. After the answer is filed, the matter is set for a settlement conference and a hearing.  Mandatory settlement conferences are held before the hearing. Bar counsel and respondents often enter into consent agreements to settle a matter without a hearing.

If no agreement is reached, a contested hearing is held before a hearing panel which includes the Presiding Disciplinary Judge, a lawyer member and a public member.  Following a hearing, a written report containing findings of fact, conclusions of law and an order regarding sanction is filed and is final subject to the parties' right to appeal.  The hearing panel can dismiss the charges, order diversion, admonition, probation, costs, reprimand, suspension, or disbarment. Either party may appeal the hearing panel's order to the Supreme Court. 

Arizona Supreme Court 
Either party may appeal the hearing panel's order by filing with the disciplinary clerk a notice of appeal.  The parties must timely file opening briefs and answering briefs.  The Court may, in its discretion schedule oral argument.  The Court may dismiss the complaint, order diversion, admonition, probation, costs, reprimand, suspension, or disbarment.