Stages of the Attorney Disciplinary Process

There's a process that covers the possible discipline of attorneys in Pennsylvania because they broke ethical rules of professional conduct. Given that attorneys are the ones possibly being disciplined it should come as no surprise the process is not simple. There are also opportunities for the attorney to appeal disciplinary decisions. This process is to possibly subject the attorney to professional discipline up to disbarment. It's not a legal malpractice lawsuit or trial.

It all starts with a complaint filed by a client, former client, fellow attorney or judge to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The complaint is filed and an investigation is started.

The complaint may be dismissed as frivolous, outside the jurisdiction of the Board, or on the basis of Board policy or prosecutorial discretion. The lawyer who's subject of the complaint may never learn of it if the complaint is dismissed early in the process or the attorney may be asked for his or her side of the issue.

Disciplinary Counsel may recommend,

● Dismissal of the complaint.

● A conditional or unconditional informal admonition of the attorney.

● A conditional or unconditional private reprimand by the Board of the attorney concerned.

● A conditional or unconditional public reprimand by the Board of the attorney.

● The prosecution of formal charges before a hearing committee or special master.

The prosecution of formal charges includes,

● The start of proceedings with the filing with the Board a petition describing the misconduct charges.

● It's served on the attorney who needs to respond with an answer.

● If there are issues raised by the pleadings or if the attorney asks for an opportunity to be heard in mitigation, the matter would be assigned to a hearing committee or a special master.

● The attorney has a right to submit briefs and make arguments.

● The Board either affirms or writes the recommendation of the hearing committee or special master by taking the following action: dismissal, informal admonition, private reprimand, public reprimand, probation, censure, suspension or disbarment.

● The attorney can appeal to the state Supreme Court, which would hold its own hearing, potentially coming up with its own discipline which may be greater than the Board recommended.

This is a different legal process than one involving an attorney who may have committed malpractice and is being sued in civil court. While money damages can be awarded in court, professional discipline could be issued by the Board. Often our clients file these complaints in the hopes the attorney will be disciplined for the mistakes that were committed and the harm that was done to at least discourage, if not prevent, them from happening again.

If you believe you've been harmed because of the malpractice of an attorney, contact our office so we can talk about the situation, how the law may be applied and your best options for protecting your legal rights and interests.


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