The Georgia State Bar Discipline Process
How the Georgia State Bar Discipline Process Works
The Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct govern the ethical conduct of attorneys and their staff. Georgia has adopted most, but not all, of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
A client who feels that his or her attorney has committed an ethical violation during the course of the representation may file a grievance with the State Bar of Georgia. If a Bar grievance is filed against you, you will have an opportunity to respond in writing. The Bar grievance and your response is then first reviewed by the Grievance Counsel which has the power to dismiss the allegations or refer it to the Investigative Panel. If the Grievance Counsel believes the grievance deserves further review, a Notice of Investigation will be served on you.
The Notice of Investigation will cite the Bar Rules believed to have been violated and ask that you then file a second response. Your second response must be verified as to its accuracy and truthfulness. Your verified response will be reviewed and investigated further by a lawyer member of the Investigative Panel of the State Bar. The grievant who initiated the disciplinary process against you will receive a copy of your Verified Response and will be allowed the opportunity to further respond and supply additional supporting information to their complaint.
After investigation, the Investigative Panel has a number of options:
- Dismiss the Notice of Investigation with no action taken.
- Dismiss the Notice of Investigation with a letter of instruction.
- Refer the matter to the Fee Arbitration Committee or the Committee on Lawyer Impairment.
- Issue a formal letter of admonition.
- Issue an Investigative Panel Reprimand.
- Issue a Notice of Discipline.
- Refer to the prosecuting attorneys of the Office of General Counsel for Formal Complaint filing.
What Happens if you Receive a Georgia State Bar Complaint or Lawsuit?
If a Formal Complaint or lawsuit is filed against you, then the disciplinary matter becomes public knowledge. Just like other civil litigation, you must file an Answer to the allegations of the Formal Complaint and the procedures of the Georgia Civil Practice Act become applicable. During this same time, a Special Master, acting as a Trial Judge, will be appointed by the Georgia Supreme Court to conduct an evidentiary hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Special Master will then file a report with the Review Panel containing a recommendation for appropriate public discipline against you. Once the disciplinary recommendation has been made, you, as the charged attorney, or the Office of General Counsel has thirty days after the Special Master files the report to request a review. In the event that you or the Office of General counsel does not request a review by the Review Panel of the Georgia Bar, your case proceeds to the Supreme Court and both parties are considered to have waived their right to file exceptions or request oral argument.
If it is determined during the disciplinary process that discipline is warranted against you, the State Bar’s discipline can be either confidential or public and may take a variety of forms. If you face confidential discipline, that discipline will either be a formal letter of admonition or an Investigative Panel reprimand. Neither type of confidential discipline limits your ability to practice law as an attorney. However, if you face public discipline the discipline to be imposed against you may take the form of a Review Panel reprimand, a public reprimand issued by a Judge of the Superior Court where the attorney lives in open court, a suspension from practice or the ultimate sanction-disbarment from the practice of law. In fact, many attorneys believe that they can surrender their license to practice law in order to avoid suspension or disbarment; however, this is not accurate. In those situations, the Georgia Supreme Court holds that an attorney surrendering his license to practice law is “tantamount” to disbarment.
For more information on the Bar grievance process, please contact Chandler & Moore Law or visit the State Bar of Georgia website. Do not risk your license and livelihood by representing yourself or ignoring the grievance process. Contact Chandler & Moore Law to discuss confidentially your particular situation.