Written by: Robert N. Agre
The Rules of Professional Conduct are set forth in the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey. The disciplinary process for attorneys who allegedly violate the Rules of Professional Conduct is articulated in the Conduct and Practice of the Law sections of the New Jersey Rules of Court.
In most disciplinary cases, the disciplinary process begins with the filing of a grievance. Generally, the grievance will be investigated by the local ethics committee. In more serious matters, the Office of Attorney Ethics may assign an investigator. The investigative stage is confidential. The attorney who receives the grievance has ten (10) days within which to reply to it. The attorney has a duty to cooperate throughout the disciplinary process. If, in the opinion of the district ethics committee, the grievance cannot be proven by clear and convincing evidence, the grievance will be dismissed.
In certain circumstances where the alleged unethical conduct is considered minor in nature, the attorney may reach an agreement in lieu of discipline, which will not become part of the attorney’s published disciplinary record.
In the event that a formal complaint is filed by a district ethics committee or the Office of Attorney Ethics, the presenter is required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct has occurred. A hearing will either be conducted in front of a three-person panel consisting of two committee members and a public member or, in more complicated cases, before a special master.
Whatever finding is rendered by the committee or special master is subject to appeal to the disciplinary review board where the record is reviewed on a de novo basis without additional testimony. If a recommendation for discipline is made, the recommendation can range anywhere from an admonition on the bottom of the disciplinary scale to disbarment, the most serious consequence of unethical conduct. Once a case reaches the complaint stage, the case becomes a public matter.
All decisions in favor of discipline are reported by New Jersey courts under attorney discipline. It should be noted that the New Jersey Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of all discipline; and, in some cases, will hear appeals from the disciplinary review board or, acting unilaterally, issue an order to show cause why an attorney should not be disciplined.
The disciplinary system yields unpredictable results. Despite a plethora of opinions relating to attorney disciplinary matters, a form of discipline for a specific violation cannot be ascertained with certainty. Much depends on the attorney’s prior disciplinary record and whatever efforts the attorney has made to address the basis for the attorney’s misconduct.
At the Law Offices of Robert N. Agre, we handle attorney discipline cases on a routine basis. Mr. Agre has argued cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court and numerous cases before various committees and the disciplinary review board. We welcome inquiries relating to attorney disciplinary cases. For an initial consultation, call us today at 856-428-7797 or contact us online to get started.