Lawyer Discipline Process

How the Discipline Process Works

What Doesn't the State Bar of Arizona Handle?

  • The State Bar cannot investigate charges of malpractice or resolve legal issues.
  • The State Bar does not investigate charges against judges. Allegations of misconduct against Arizona judges should be referred to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Phoenix, AZ, 602.452.3200.
  • The State Bar does not investigate charges against lawyers who are not licensed in Arizona unless they are practicing law in Arizona.
  • The State Bar investigates charges where non-lawyers are alleged to have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.  These types of allegations may also be referred to other appropriate agencies for prosecution.

What Happens After a Charge is Received?

Charges received by the State Bar of Arizona are handled in several ways:

1. Charges are dismissed if they do not violate the Rules of Professional Conduct contained in Rule 42 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Arizona or other applicable Supreme Court rules.

2. Charges are 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 unprofessional behavior toward clients or others.

3. Low-level violations or client relation problems may be resolved by Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program. If the charges against an attorney are found to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, the attorney may be referred to a diversion program, required to pay restitution, ordered to pay costs, be issued an admonition, be placed on probation, reprimanded, suspended or disbarred.

Informal Proceedings

Prescreening

Bar proceedings begin when allegations are received which means "any suggestion of misconduct or incapacity brought to the attention of the State Bar." Each charge is reviewed to determine whether it meets the threshold for screening.  The test for screening is whether the charge would warrant the imposition of a sanction.  The State Bar, in the exercise of its discretion, determines the appropriateness of a full investigation.  Typically, though, if a charge meets this threshold, it is placed into screening (i.e., investigation).

Lawyers are notified of charges made and dismissed or not referred to another State Bar program (e.g., peer review or fee arbitration) for informational purposes only.

Screening

When a case is placed into investigation, the complainant is notified, and the lawyer is notified of the investigation and the nature of the allegations.  A written response is requested from the lawyer and is due within 20 days.  Extensions of time may be granted for good cause but failure to make a timely response can result in a sanction being imposed for failure to cooperate with the Bar.

Bar counsel is required to forward a copy of the lawyer's response to the complainant, unless a request for a protective order is granted.  The complainant may be asked to provide additional information based on the response.  Further investigation may be conducted by bar counsel and investigative staff.  At the conclusion of the investigation, bar counsel make a recommendation on the disposition of the charge.

Probable Cause Review

Bar counsel will prepare an investigative report of the file.  A recommendation for anything other than dismissal must be submitted to the Attorney Discipline Probable Cause Committee ("Committee").  Both the lawyer and the complainant receive notice of the recommendation and are provided an opportunity to submit a written response.  The investigative report and any response from the lawyer or the complainant are provided to the Committee for consideration.  The Committee is appointed by the Supreme Court and has six lawyer members and three public members.   Recommendations to the Committee may include: diversion, restitution, costs, stay, admonition, probation, or probable cause to file a formal complaint.

Formal Proceedings

Once a probable cause order is issued, bar counsel prepares a complaint. Formal proceedings begin when the complaint is filed by bar counsel with the disciplinary clerk.

The lawyer's answer is due within 20 days of service of the complaint and is filed with the disciplinary clerk.  Motions for extensions of time to answer must be ruled on by the Presiding Disciplinary Judge.  If no timely answer is filed, the matter will be treated as a default.  At least one settlement conference will be held before a designated settlement officer prior to the evidentiary hearing, unless the parties agree otherwise.

Bar counsel and respondent lawyers often enter into consent agreements to settle a matter without a hearing.  Consent agreements are routinely explored in cases where the essential facts are not in dispute.  A lawyer against whom a charge has been made or a complaint has been filed may tender a conditional admission to the charge or complaint or to a particular count in exchange for a stated form of discipline, other than disbarment, at any stage of the proceedings.  Consent agreements are governed by Rule 57, Ariz. R. Sup. Ct.

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.  At the conclusion of the hearing, the panel issues a report, containing findings of fact, conclusions of law and an order regarding sanction.  The hearing panel may order dismissal of the charges, diversion, restitution, assessment of costs, admonition, probation, reprimand, suspension or disbarment.  The panel's order is final subject to the parties' right to appeal.

Supreme Court of Arizona

Either party may appeal the order of the panel within ten days after service of the report and order by filing a notice of appeal with the disciplinary clerk.  An opening brief shall be filed with the disciplinary clerk no later than thirty days after the notice of docketing and the answering brief must be filed no later than thirty days after service of the opening brief.  In the Court's discretion, oral argument may be scheduled in an appeal upon request of either party or upon the Court's own motion.  The Court may dispose of the appeal in the same manner as any other matter brought to the Court on appeal, including affirming or reversing the panel's order, remand to the panel, or entering any order it deems appropriate.

Discipline Cost Schedule

The Supreme Court of Arizona has adopted a schedule of administrative expenses to be assessed in lawyer discipline.