How Best to Deal with Georgia State Bar Disciplinary Matters – Part 2

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances

Investigative Panel Review

Part 1 of this series discussed the initial response to a Bar complaint, and provided some practical advice for improving the chances of success and minimizing the potential damage to your practice, lifestyle and reputation. Part 2 covers what to expect if the complaint is assigned to the Investigative Panel.

If the grievance screening members, after the initial response, believe there has been a violation, they will send the grievance to the Investigative Panel (IP) or an IP subcommittee. At the same time, the named attorney (respondent) is served with a Notice of Investigation. This documents the acknowledgement of the charge, the alleged Rule violations, the Panel Member (and staff investigator if applicable) assigned, and the opportunity to respond in writing under oath. A list of active Panel Members is provided, and the respondent also receives notification of the right to challenge the competency, qualifications or objectivity of any Panel Member.

 

Responding to the Georgia Bar Investigative Panel

Once service of the Notice of Investigation is acknowledged, the clock starts running for what is normally a 30 day window to file a verified response. Here are four general themes in responding to the Investigative Panel:

  1. I didn’t violate any Rules.
  2. I may have technically violated Rules, but not the spirit in which they were created or intended.
  3. There were extenuating circumstances.
  4. I did violate the Rules. Have mercy upon my soul.

As the respondent, this is your last opportunity to keep the matter confidential. Remember, this doesn’t mean that you are tried and convicted. If there was a communication breakdown at the initial stage, fix it now and ensure that the response is 100% accurate. If you get caught in a misstatement or dishonest action, you could be charged with additional Rule violations, like Rule 8.4(a)(4) for professional misconduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.  If you and/or your counsel determine that your acts or omissions did violate a Rule, this may be the time to admit it and suggest appropriate punishment. The IP may look favorably upon what is known as a Voluntary Petition for Discipline, particularly if there are mitigating factors, no aggravating factors, and no prior disciplinary history.

Based on the verified response, the Investigative Panel has several options. Except for a Notice of Discipline which leads to the filing of a Formal Complaint, all other IP options are confidential:

  1. Dismiss the Notice of Investigation – no action taken.
  2. Refer it to the Arbitration Committee – often the case with fee disputes.
  3. Refer it to the Committee on Lawyer Impairment – if the lawyer requires medical or psychological treatment.
  4. Issue a formal letter of admonition – a letter outlining the Rules violated and the findings of the IP.  This is the lowest level of confidential discipline, and remains on your record.
  5. Issue an IP Reprimand – in-person admonition before the members of the IP.
  6. Issue a Notice of Discipline – General Counsel files a formal complaint with the GA Supreme Court. While the respondent can reject the Notice, when filed the matter becomes full-blown litigation following the GA Rules of Civil Procedure. This could potentially lead to an evidentiary trial before a Special Master appointed by the GA Supreme Court.

It’s Time to Get Help with Your Georgia Bar Grievance

If you haven’t engaged counsel during the initial grievance review, do it now. Depending on the result of this investigation, report and the IP’s decision, you could face serious discipline, or even the ultimate sanction–disbarment. Do you really want to go at this alone? Find an attorney with specific experience in these disciplinary matters and with established State Bar relationships.

Part 3 of this series will discuss some of the reasons, both serious and humorous, that clients file Bar complaints.

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