For the Public
Maybe.ï¿½ Complainants are key witnesses in proceedings brought by the OCDC or the Regional Disciplinary Committees, but are not parties, and have no right to seek a hearing.ï¿½ Most disciplinary cases are resolved without hearings.
If the OCDC or the Regional Disciplinary Committee determines that no probable cause exists to believe that the attorney has violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, the complaint will be dismissed.ï¿½ If, on the other hand, a determination is made that a violation of the Rules has occurred, the resultant disciplinary action can range from an admonition (issued by the OCDC or a Regional Disciplinary Committee) or discipline imposed by the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Discipline can include a reprimand, to a suspension from the practice of law for a definite or indefinite period of time, (with or without probation) to disbarment.ï¿½ Admonitions can be issued by the OCDC, by Regional Disciplinary Committees or by Disciplinary Hearing Panels.ï¿½ Only the Supreme Court of Missouri can reprimand, suspend or disbar an attorney.
The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel has the authority to determine that a complaint will not lead to discipline and to dismiss the complaint.ï¿½ This may happen for a variety of reasons:ï¿½ the OCDC may conclude that the evidence is not strong enough, the conduct may not fall within the Rules of Professional Conduct even if it can be proven, or the case may fall within one of the categories which are excluded from disciplinary consideration by policies of the OCDC.ï¿½ In any event, you will be notified if the OCDC decides not to proceed on your complaint.
If the OCDC determines that a complaint may lead to discipline, an investigation will be conducted. The investigation includes a process of notifying the lawyer of the complaint and giving him or her opportunity to respond.ï¿½ The complainant will be given an opportunity to further comment on the attorneyï¿½s response.ï¿½ If it is determined by the OCDC or a Regional Disciplinary Committee that no probable cause exists to conclude that a violation of the Rules has occurred, the complaint will be dismissed.ï¿½ If, however, it is determined that a violation has occurred and that discipline should be imposed after an investigation, there are two possibilities:
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ The attorney may be given an admonition for relatively minor violations where the conduct does not warrant removing the lawyer from the practice of law.
ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ If the violation of the Rules is serious enough that the lawyer should be disbarred, suspended or reprimanded by the Supreme Court of Missouri, formal charges and a formal disciplinary proceeding must take place and the matter will normally go to a hearing before a Disciplinary Hearing Panel. Rule 5Any public discipline (disbarment, suspension or reprimand) may only be imposed by the Supreme Court of Missouri.
Anyone can find out if a Missouri attorney has a record of public discipline by contacting the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.ï¿½ (Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, 3327 American Avenue, Jefferson City, MO 65109. Phone (573) 635-7400 Fax (573) 635-2240).
Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.31 sets out which records and procedures of the Missouri Supreme Court discipline process are public and which parts are confidential.
Rule 5.31. Records of Investigations and Formal Proceedings
(a) When filed in this Court, an information and all materials filed in connection with the information are public documents unless otherwise ordered by this Court.
(b) The records of all proceedings occurring prior to the acceptance of a written letter of admonition or the filing in this Court of a decision of a disciplinary hearing panel finding a violation of Rule 4 or of an information directly in this Court shall not be made public unless ordered by this Court or the lawyer shall so request. The records of all proceedings occurring before the disciplinary hearing panel decision or information is filed directly in this Court shall be deposited with the chief disciplinary counsel. Except as otherwise provided in this Rule 5.31 or otherwise ordered by this Court, such records may be inspected only by the chief disciplinary counsel, members of the committee holding a hearing, or the person complained against or that person´s duly authorized representative.
(c) If an investigation involves a member of the bar of another state and involves action adverse to such person, the chief disciplinary counsel shall transmit a copy of the record to the appropriate disciplinary authorities of the state where the lawyer is licensed.
(d) A letter of admonition accepted by the respondent shall be available to the public for a period of three years from the date of said acceptance. After the three-year period, the record of the letter of admonition shall be closed and shall not be available to the public. The period of the availability of the letter of admonition under this Rule 5.31 shall be extended, however, by the period applying to any other letter of admonition received by the respondent during the three-year period or against whom an information has been filed and is pending.
(e) The chief disciplinary counsel may make otherwise confidential records of disciplinary proceedings available to: 1) the commission on retirement, removal and discipline when the confidential records relate to a possible violation of this Court´s Rule 2; 2) the board of law examiners when the confidential records relate to the qualifications of an applicant for admission; 3) appropriate lawyer disciplinary authorities in other jurisdictions when the confidential records relate to possible violations by a lawyer licensed, or applying for licensure, in that jurisdiction; and, 4) to law enforcement agencies acting within the scope of their lawful authority when the confidential records relate to possible criminal conduct. Nothing in this Rule 5.31(e) compels the chief disciplinary counsel to make confidential records available without a subpoena and court order if the chief disciplinary counsel chooses not to exercise the discretion granted in this Rule 5.31(e) to make those confidential records available.
(Adopted June 20, 1995, eff. Jan 1, 1996.)
By application of Rule 5.31, disciplinary authorities may not acknowledge, discuss or disclose pending disciplinary complaints or investigations. After investigation, if the OCDC or Regional Disciplinary Committee finds that there is no probable cause to believe a violation has occurred, the investigative materials and decision remain confidential.
Finally, if, after investigation,ï¿½ the OCDC or any Regional Disciplinary Committee determines probable cause to believe that a violation has occurred and that anï¿½ admonition is insufficient (or if an attorney rejects an admonition), an Information (the charges) are filed with the Advisory Committee pursuant to Rule 5.12.
After a hearing, the Disciplinary Hearing Panel prepares a Report, containing findings, conclusions and a recommendation for sanctions. At that point, unless the OCDC accepts a Hearing Panel recommendation for dismissal of the charges, the complete record of the hearing, the charges, and the decision are filed at the Supreme Court. At that point, those records are open to the public.
Status of Missouri Supreme Court cases can be tracked at: Casenet or at the Court´s own website by the docket, minutes and decisions. Additionally, all public discipline imposed by the Supreme Court (since January 1, 2006) is available at the Missouri Supreme Court website.
Attorney discipline cases, like civil and criminal cases, are often resolved by agreement (stipulation). In those cases, the Supreme Court must approve the stipulated decision. Those records typically become public when filed at the Supreme Court.
Complaint proceedings are not public information during the investigative process. Per Rule 5.31, the records become public when disciplinary pleadings are filed with the Supreme Court of Missouri. The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel can provide information regarding public discipline that has previously been imposed against an attorney.
You will be informed of the disposition of your complaint and of any cooperation that is needed on your part.ï¿½ The OCDC and the Regional Disciplinary Committees attempt to keep complainants informed of the general status of and major developments that occur in their complaints.
The time it takes to complete the investigation and action on a disciplinary complaint varies.ï¿½ In most cases, if a complaint is dismissed, the complainant will be informed of the action within six months.ï¿½ However, any complaint that leads to the imposition of discipline may take much longer.ï¿½ Matters that go through formal charges and a hearing can take more than a year to reach a final disposition.
If your complaint is opened, investigated and then dismissed upon a finding of no probable cause, the Rules provide you with an opportunity to request a review by the Missouri Supreme Court Advisory Committee. Requests must be received within 30-days of the decision to close the file.ï¿½ If the Advisory Committee agrees with the dismissal, it will close the file.ï¿½ If it disagrees and finds that the complaint has merit, it will assign the complaint for reinvestigation.
A disciplinary investigation into your complaint is not a substitute for any action that you must take to protect your own interests.ï¿½ If you feel that you may have a claim for professional negligence or malpractice, you should consult counsel of your choice (at your expense) for advice as to whether you have remedies available to you.ï¿½ The OCDCï¿½s role is to determine whether the protection of the public requires that discipline be imposed on the lawyer.ï¿½ The OCDC cannot represent or advise complaining parties as to how to protect their personal interests.
Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.315 provides that all communications relating to alleged misconduct and all testimony given in a proceeding conducted pursuant to the Rules shall be absolutely privileged if submitted in good faith and the person making the communication shall be immune from suit based upon such communication.
No, you should take whatever action you need in order to protect your interests.
Alan Pratzel, For the Public - Disiplinary Proceedings - 3327 American Avenue, Jefferson City, MO 65109-1016 - Phone: 573-635-7400 - FAX: 573-635-2240