How to Best Deal with State Bar Disciplinary Matters – Part 4
What to expect if the complaint against you ends up in front of the Georgia Supreme Court.
Part 1 of this series discussed the initial response to a Bar complaint, and Part 2 covered what to expect if the complaint is assigned to the Investigative Panel. Part 3 reviewed ways to minimize the chances of receiving a Bar complaint. This final installment covers what happens if a bar complaint makes it to the big show – the Georgia Supreme Court.
For a small percentage (about 3%) of Bar complaints, the Investigative Panel finds probable cause (Rule 4-204.4) and refers the case to the Office of General Counsel (OGC) to file a Formal Complaint before the GA Supreme Court. At this point, the named attorney’s professional career and reputation are on the line, and the attorney can expect to receive some sort of public discipline. The respondent-attorney is served with Notice, a Petition for Special Master (acting as the trial judge), and a copy of the Formal Complaint. Hopefully, the respondent has already retained an attorney who will acknowledge service and avoid the embarrassment of service by the Sheriff.
Unless there is a negotiated agreement by the filing of a Voluntary Petition for Discipline, which must be ultimately approved by the GA Supreme Court, the attorney-respondent is now involved in full-blown litigation. This includes an Answer to the Formal Complaint, written discovery, witness identification, depositions, motions, hearings and ultimately trial. The office, data, clients, and peers are all fair game for the OGC prosecutors, which can disrupt the respondent-attorney’s practice and drain financial resources. What’s worse, the information is available to peers and the general public.
Potential Georgia State Bar Complaint Sanctions
At this point, the respondent-attorney is going to get punished publically. The only dismissal examples I’ve seen at this point were for internal procedural mistakes. Punishment options include:
- Review Panel Reprimand
- Public Reprimand before a trial judge
Respondent-attorneys still have a chance to negotiate a resolution, but it depends on the issue(s) and is greatly influenced by the involved member(s) of the State Bar and the make-up of the GA Supreme Court. The goal of the OGC is to protect the public, so they will aggressively pursue each case. Generally, the most effective negotiation option is for the respondent-attorney to quickly get to the central issues and offer a realistic resolution based on supporting disciplinary case precedent.
Real Life Bar Complaint Example
Here is an example. My client’s law firm was under attack after federal agents uncovered a network of runners/cappers getting an illegal piece of the settlement. My client admitted responsibility and requested a 6-month suspension. The State Bar and the Supreme Court agreed. Other attorneys entangled in the same runner network held out, dragged out the proceedings, and were ultimately disbarred.
Normally Bar complaints should be resolved well before the Georgia Supreme Court gets involved. If you ever receive a complaint, immediately seek experienced counsel, respond quickly and accurately, and work toward a fair resolution to the situation.