The Disciplinary Board was established to provide a procedure 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. The North Dakota Rules for Lawyer Discipline provide the procedural framework for the handling and disposition of complaints. By Supreme Court Administrative Rule, the Joint Committee on Attorney Standards provides the vehicle for the coordinated, complementary, and continuing study and review of the range of issues concerning attorney standards and supervision.
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 respective 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 initiated 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 instituted.
Formal proceedings are instituted when there is probable cause to believe that misconduct has occurred. When a matter goes formal, a petition for discipline is filed 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, the recommendations of the hearing panel for each matter heard that does not result in dismissal, consent probation, or reprimand are filed directly with the 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.
Non-lawyer citizens are members of the District Inquiry Committees and the Disciplinary Board. All members of the Board and the Inquiry Committees are volunteers and are asked to review what, at times, can be very time-consuming matters. While many complaints are dismissed as groundless, the amount of volunteer time needed to run the system is significant.
Following is a summary of complaint files under consideration in 1999.
|New Complaint Files Opened in 1999||211|
|General Nature of Complaints:|
Client Funds & Property
Conflict of Interest
Failure to Communicate/Cooperate
Unauthorized Practice of Law
|Formal Proceedings Pending From Prior Years||17|
|Other Complaint Files Pending From Prior Years||72|
|Appeals Filed with Disciplinary Board in 1999||24|
|Total Files for Consideration in 1999||324|
|Disposition of Complaint Files:|
No Action by Inquiry
Dismissed by Inquiry
Dismissed without Prejudice by
Summary Dismissals by Inquiry
Admonitions Issued by Inquiry
Admonition with Consent
Consent Probation by Inquiry
Dismissals Issued by Disciplinary
Reprimands (Public) Issued by
Disciplinary Board Approves IC
Disciplinary Board Disapproves IC
Disciplinary Board Approves IC
Public Reprimand by Supreme Court
Formal Proceedings Pending 12/31/99
Other Complaint Files Pending 12/31/99
*5 complaint files resulted in suspension of 3 attorneys.
**Total number reflects multiple dispositions in review and appeal processes.