The Disciplinary Board was established in 1965 to provide for investigating, evaluating, and acting upon complaints alleging unethical conduct by attorneys licensed in North Dakota. The Rules of Professional Conduct are the primary guide for lawyer conduct, and the North Dakota Rules for Lawyer Discipline provide the procedural framework for the handling and disposition of complaints. These rules can be found on this website.
The Disciplinary Board has ten members—three non-lawyer members and seven lawyers. The non-lawyer members are appointed from around the state by the Supreme Court from a list submitted by the State Bar Association, the Attorney General, and the District Judges Association. One lawyer member is appointed by the Supreme Court from each of the seven judicial districts. All members are unpaid volunteers.
How the process works
When a written complaint alleging attorney misconduct is received, it is filed with the Board's secretary and referred to either the District Inquiry Committee East, West, or Northeast of the State Bar Association. The chair of the committee reviews the complaint and, if appropriate, assigns the complaint for investigation to a member of the committee or staff counsel. If the complaint, on its face, does not indicate misconduct, an investigation will not be conducted and the matter will be referred to the committee for summary dismissal. Actions available to district inquiry committees are dismissal, issuing an admonition, probation with the consent of the respondent attorney, or directing that formal proceedings be started.
Formal proceedings are begun when there is probable cause to believe that misconduct has occurred that deserves a public reprimand, suspension, or disbarment. A petition for discipline is filed by Disciplinary Counsel, and a hearing panel is appointed by the chair of the Disciplinary Board to make findings and a recommendation. Present and past members of the Board may serve as hearing panel members. Under rule amendments which became effective July 1, 1999, recommendations of the hearing panel that do not result in dismissal, consent probation, or reprimand are filed directly with the Supreme Court. The hearing panel may enter orders of dismissal, consent probation or reprimand; however, they are subject to a petition for review that is filed with the Court.
By Supreme Court Administrative Rule, the Joint Attorney Standards Committee provides the vehicle for the coordinated, complementary, and continuing study and review of the range of issues concerning attorney standards and supervision.
Steps to follow to file a complaint
1. Put your complaint in writing. It should be signed, dated, and sent to the Secretary of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court, 600 East Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, ND 58505-0530. You do not need a lawyer to represent you.
2. Include a description of the conduct about which you are complaining, the names of witnesses, and copies of documents and other materials to assist committee members in understanding and acting promptly on your complaint.
3. You will have an opportunity to be heard by the district inquiry committee. If the information provided does not indicate misconduct, however, the complaint will be dismissed without further investigation and without your being given an opportunity to appear.
4. The investigation and decision on your complaint may take several months, depending on the complexity of the matter and on when the investigating committee and the Board, whose members are unpaid volunteers, are able to meet.
5. You will receive written notice of the outcome of your complaint.
When considering a complaint against a lawyer, you should know that a complaint will do nothing to change the outcome of a case or its appeal. A complaint is not a civil or malpractice action, so the complaining party will not "win" anything or be awarded any damages. Complaints are not substitutes for appeals of court decisions, and you must not wait for the Disciplinary Board to take its action before you take your appeal or any other legal action.
Further information about the complaint process can be obtained from the Secretary of the Disciplinary Board, 600 East Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, ND 58505-0530, or 701-328-2221.