Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a lawyer?
No, generally you do not need a lawyer to prepare your response to a bar charge. If you do not feel at ease in responding, or feel that you may in fact have violated the ethical rules, it may be wise for you to at least consult with counsel before responding. There are several lawyers who regularly handle matters from the screening stage through any formal proceedings.
The Arizona Association of Defense Counsel (AADC) has established a program to provide a free initial consultation for attorneys asked by the State Bar to respond in writing to a disciplinary charge. A panel of experienced attorneys has been created to provide this service. If you are interested in receiving a free initial consultation please contact the AADC program coordinator:
Johnny J. Sorenson
The Sorenson Law Firm LLC
950 W. Elliot Rd Suite 226
Tempe, AZ 85284-0001
Upon receiving your request, the project coordinator will contact a panel member to determine his or her availability. The project coordinator will then put you into direct contact with the panel member to arrange for the initial consultation. (Except as necessary to fulfill the foregoing assignment responsibilities, the project coordinator will maintain the confidentiality of disciplinary charges.)
Where do I file responses or pleadings?
Any responses during the screening process of a charge are sent to bar counsel assigned to handle the investigation of the charge. Any pleadings or motions filed during the screening phase should be filed with the State Bar records manager at 4201 N. 24th Street, Suite 100, Phoenix, AZ 85016-6266 and copies should be sent to the assigned bar counsel.
If the matter becomes a formal proceeding, pleadings need to filed with the Disciplinary Clerk of the Supreme Court located at 1501 West Washington Street, Suite 102, Phoenix, Arizona 85007 with a copy being sent to the assigned bar counsel.
What is a consent agreement?
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.
What are the alternatives to discipline?
There are several options.
The Bar has a Mediation program as part of the disciplinary process. Mediation is an option during the prescreening phase of a complaint. If the alleged misconduct is relatively minor, and it appears that the parties could benefit from getting together and discussing their concerns with a trained mediator, the matter may be referred to one of the lawyer or non-lawyer mediators throughout the state.
Unless more serious misconduct surfaces, settlement of a matter in mediation (and subsequent compliance with agreed-upon terms) will result in the complaint being dismissed, even if there was an underlying violation of the ethical rules. Mediation is optional. Lawyers who decline to mediate will have their matters referred to the normal disciplinary process.
Diversion shifts the emphasis in cases involving minor acts of misconduct away from disciplinary sanctions and toward rehabilitation. It is designed to address minor acts of ethical impropriety that typically can be linked to poor law office management, chemical dependency, or other behavioral health problems. Current diversion programs include the use of the following programs: Law Office Management Assistance Program, Member Assistance Program, Ethics Enhancement Program and Trust Account Ethics Enhancement Program. Diversion is not available in cases which would warrant a suspension or disbarment or where the attorney has acted dishonestly or in breach of a fiduciary duty.
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 will be considered in cases where, assuming allegations of ethical violation against the respondent lawyer are true, the sanction would be a reprimand or less, although some ethical violations warranting an admonition or reprimand may not, under all circumstances, be diversion eligible.
Diversion matters are confidential. Successful completion of diversion results in the underlying matter being dismissed. Thus, an attorney who successfully completes diversion will have no record of discipline arising from the underlying complaint. Diversion Guidelines
How long are records kept of disciplinary matters filed with the State Bar?
Records for charges resulting in a sanction are maintained indefinitely. Records of dismissed charges and those resulting in diversion are maintained for a period of three years from the date of disposition and are thereafter expunged pursuant to Rule 71, Ariz. R. Sup. Ct.
Do discipline files remain confidential?
If a charge is dismissed, either with or without a full investigation, the records become open to the public at the time the State Bar notifies the complainant of the disposition. The files remain public for six months following notification.
Records of charges that result in a diversion agreement or an order of diversion are confidential.
Records of charges that result in the imposition of a sanction or other Committee order pursuant to Rule 55, Ariz. R. Sup. Ct., generally become open to the public upon entry of an order by the Committee. Records of these charges remain public indefinitely.
Can the State Bar help me deal with a difficult client or colleague?
The Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP) may be able to help if a client is having a dispute with his/her attorney, if an attorney is having a dispute with his/her client, or if an attorney is having a dispute with another attorney. If you want the assistance of A/CAP, please call A/CAP at 602.340.7280. Outside Maricopa County call 866.372.4356.
What is A/CAP?
The Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP) is designed to resolve some problems between attorneys and clients prior to filing a charge. A/CAP personnel will talk with you about your concerns; explore the nature of your dispute and the details of the actions of the attorney. The attorneys in A/CAP will then review this information and you may receive a return phone call from one of these attorneys to find out more about the problem you are having. If appropriate, the A/CAP attorney will help you in trying to resolve this dispute with the attorney.
Does the attorney-client privilege prevent me from disclosing information to bar counsel?
No. Attorneys are required to cooperate with the State Bar. The ethical rules allow an attorney to submit confidential information to defend him/her self in a disciplinary inquiry. If information is truly confidential, a party may request an order sealing a portion of the record.
What is the most common reason for receiving a Bar charge?
Failing to communicate with the client is one of the most common reasons for receiving a bar charge. The types of communication problems that the Bar receives include failing to tell a client about the status of a case, failing to inform clients about fees, and failing to communicate in a timely manner with opposing counsel. In order of frequency, the following are also common reasons for receiving a bar charge: diligence, scope of representation, safekeeping client property (trust accounts), and disputes about fees.
What costs will I be assessed if I am found to have committed violations of the ethical rules?
The Supreme Court rules allow for an assessment of costs and expenses related to disciplinary proceedings that may be imposed by the Presiding Disciplinary Judge or the Supreme Court, in addition to any other sanction imposed.
Where can I research discipline case decisions?
Information on past disciplinary cases can be found on the Arizona Supreme Court's website.