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OCDC Article - INSIDE THE INVESTIGATION - The Role of the Regional Disciplinary Committee

Published: May 28, 2009

By Marc A. Lapp

After receipt of an ethics complaint against a St. Louis area attorney, the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel typically refers the investigation to either the Region X Disciplinary Committee -for attorneys whose practice is located in the 21st judicial circuit- or the Region XI Disciplinary Committee -for attorneys whose practice is located in the 22nd judicial circuit.  The role of the Regional Disciplinary Committee is to investigate the facts regarding the ethics complaint and determine whether “there is probable cause to believe that the individual under investigation is guilty of professional misconduct.” (R. 5.09, 5.11) 

Region X sits in 4 divisions of 7 people, 5 lawyers and 2 non-lawyers. Region XI sits in 2 Divisions.  Investigations are “in the manner of a grand jury proceeding” and are usually conducted “in a summary and informal manner.” (R. 5.09) The committee members review the written materials and, if necessary, speak or meet with the lawyer or complainant.  The committee has the authority to “issue subpoenas for documents and witnesses to testify under oath.” (R. 5.09) The Chief Disciplinary Counsel assigns to each division a Special Representative to assist with the investigations.

If the committee finds “no probable cause to believe that the lawyer has engaged in professional misconduct, the complainant [is] so notified.” (R. 5.12) If after completion of the investigation, the committee “finds that there is probable cause to believe that the [lawyer] is guilty of professional misconduct, it may administer an admonition or cause an information to be prepared.” (R. 5.11)

The Regional Disciplinary Committee model is unique. Most states utilize full-time, disciplinary counsel to conduct all investigations.  Regional committee members are volunteers, who practice or live in the judicial circuit.  The lawyer members have extensive experience in the practice of law so as to have the judgment necessary to evaluate the conduct of others.  The non-lawyer members are interested and involved citizens who bring to the investigations a valued, outside perspective, particularly on attorney-client issues.  All recognize the importance of protecting the public and maintaining the integrity of the legal profession.  Committee members find their participation and contributions rewarding and usually remain for a second 4-year term.

At the end of every year, some committee members’ terms expire.  We strive for a composition on each committee of dedicated lawyers from diverse practice areas and office sizes.  The time commitment is normally 2-3 hours per month.  Being a committee member is a terrific and interesting service opportunity for our profession and community.  For anyone interested in joining the Region X or Region XI Disciplinary Committee, please e-mail me a letter of interest with your work history and experience.  Candidates will be nominated for appointment by the Chair of the Regional Disciplinary Committee and the Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

 Marc A. Lapp is a Special Representative, investigating ethics complaints and prosecuting professional misconduct for the Region X Disciplinary Committee. Marc is also Claims Counsel for Chartis Insurance in Clayton.You can email Marc with questions, comments or article ideas at more information about the Missouri attorney disciplinary system, visit the redesigned website of the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel at