“Whether you want to admit it or not, the process has begun and the clock is already ticking.”
You’ve Got Mail (Just Not the Good Kind)
You open your mail box. Flipping through the daily mail, you hope for a check and expect a few bills, but behind a glossy mailer and an annoying letter from opposing counsel, you find a certified letter–and it’s from Office of Disciplinary Counsel. The letter advises that an ethics complaint has been filed against you. Whether you want to admit it or not, the process has begun and the clock is already ticking. This post explores what happens next.
The Complaint– A complaint can be made by anyone and the mere fact of a complaint does not signify that it possesses merit. After a complaint is made, a screening process begins. At the point a letter finds its way into your mailbox, you will know that the ODC wants your side of the story. It is imperative that you respond and within the time delays allowed. Famously, Lincoln said that a lawyer who represents himself has “a fool for a client”– you should strongly consider selecting counsel to represent you in the process.
ODC Investigation– If a complaint is found to possess possible merit, the ODC will conduct an investigation. After the investigation, the ODC makes its recommendations from the following options:
-Dismissal of the Complaint: A dismissal may be appealed;
-Diversion: A diversion will allow the attorney to receive counseling, training, or assistance from the LSBA Practice Assistance and Improvements Committee in lieu of formal punishment;
-Private Admonition: A private form of discipline used in cases of minor misconduct; or,
-Formal Charges: The ODC must seek approval from a Hearing Committee chair to file formal charges.
Formal Charges- If the ODC request for formal charges is approved, formal charges will be filed with the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. The ODC possesses a “clear and convincing” burden of proving an alleged ethical violation. The attorney has an opportunity to mount a defense before a Hearing Committee which will then issue a report and recommendation.
Objections to Ruling- If an objection to the Committee’s ruling is raised, the matter will be heard before the Disciplinary Board. After briefs are filed and oral arguments made, the Board will make a recommendation which will then be filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Supreme Court – If either the attorney or the ODC objects to the recommendation of the Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court will consider the matter after briefing and oral argument. The Supreme Court may reject the charges or issue sanctions to include: suspension, disbarment, or permanent disbarment.
The rules set in place by the Supreme Court provide that formal charges against an attorney will be “deemed admitted” if no response is made within 20 days—even if the attorney otherwise had a meritorious defense. So, when you’ve got mail, the simple act of opening it may just save your career.
Gracella Simmons’ practice includes defense of attorneys and law firms when professional liability claims are made and defense of attorneys in response to complaints made to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.