All Arizona attorneys must follow the Rules of Professional Conduct, the ethical code established by the Arizona Supreme Court, and the State Bar Trust Account Guidelines, which define a lawyer's duty to safeguard client funds and appropriately manage a trust account. The rules and guidelines are contained in Rules 41, 42 and 43 of the Arizona Rules of the Supreme Court and can be found in Volume 17A of the Arizona Revised Statutes and the Supreme Court website.
The Office of Lawyer Regulation is responsible for investigating and prosecuting charges of unethical conduct on the part of Arizona attorneys. Anyone may file a complaint with the State Bar. Staff Bar counsel reviews all charges to determine whether an investigation should be conducted. In some cases, staff Bar counsel refers the matter to another State Bar program, such as Fee Arbitration or Peer Review. The State Bar uses mediation for resolving some disputes between lawyers and clients.
Contact: Chief Bar Counsel, 602.340.7233
ATTORNEY/CONSUMER ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (A/CAP)>
The Attorney /Consumer Assistance Program (A/CAP) serves as the intake and prescreening functions of the State Bar's Lawyer Regulation Office. A/CAP allows concerned individuals
- attorneys and consumers - to speak with an attorney who is trained in dispute resolution and interpersonal communication, and who also is knowledgeable in the Arizona disdplinary process.
A/ CAP attorneys listen, gather information, inform, and, as appropriate, attempt to resolve concerns brought to their attention. When appropriate, they attempt to rebuild the trust between the complainant - perhaps a client or opposing attorney - and the attorney about whom the inquiry is made. Serious complaints are referred to Bar counsel for investigation.
Contact: A/CAP Hotline, 602.340.7280
THE DISCIPLINE PROCESS
Screening is the process of reviewing a disciplinary "charge," which is any allegation or other information alleging misconduct or incapacity. Designated staff Bar counsel reviews each charge. If it is determined that matter should be investigated, a screening file is opened and the respondent lawyer is asked to file a response. 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"), along with any response from the respondent or the complainant 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, costs, probable cause to file a complaint, probable cause to file a disability petition, or stay. Formal proceedings in discipline or disability cases commence after the Committee issues a probable cause order. The State Bar 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.
After the Respondent's answer is filed, the matter is set for a settlement conference and a hearing. Mandatory settlement conferences are held before a 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 and expenses, reprimand, suspension, or disbarment. Either party may appeal the hearing panel's order to the Supreme Court.
Either party may appeal the hearing panel's order by filing with the disciplinary clerk a notice of appeal. The Court may, in its discretion, schedule oral argument. The Court may dismiss the complaint, order diversion, admonition, probation, costs and expenses, reprimand, suspension, or disbarment.
More information about formal disciplinary proceedings can be obtained from the State Bar website, and the Disciplinary Clerk's section of the Supreme Court website. Contact: Sandra Montoya, 602.340.7353 or Sandra.Montoya@staff.azbar.org.
Minor acts of ethical misconduct may be resolved through Arizona's award-winning diversion program, which received national recognition from the American Bar Association. An attorney may be offered diversion, based upon the Diversion Guidelines.
Diversion may include help from the Law Office Management Assistance Program, the Member Assistance Program, ethics programs or other State Bar programs, such as Continuing Legal Education.