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 38, 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.
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. 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 Supreme Court. The hearing panel may enter orders of dismissal, consent probation or reprimand; however, they are subject to a petition for review which may be filed with the Supreme 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 2000.
|New Complaint Files Opened in 2000||181|
|General Nature of Complaints:|
Client Funds & Property
Conflict of Interest
Failure to Communicate/Cooperate with
Unauthorized Practice of Law
|Formal Proceedings Pending From Prior Years||16|
|Other Complaint Files Pending From Prior Years||70|
|Appeals Filed with Disciplinary Board in 2000||46|
|Appeals Filed with Supreme Court in 2000||1|
|Total Files for Consideration in 2000||314|
|Disposition of Complaint Files:|
Dismissed by Inquiry Committees
Summary Dismissals by Inquiry Committees
Admonitions Issued by Inquiry Committees
Consent Probation by Inquiry Committees
Dismissals Issued by Disciplinary Board
Disciplinary Board Approves IC Dismissal
Disciplinary Board Disapproves IC
Disciplinary Board Approves IC Admonition Dismissal by Hearing Panel
Reprimand by Hearing Panel
Denial of Reinstatement/Return to Active
Status By Supreme Court
Disbarment by Supreme Court
Suspensions by Supreme Court
Formal Proceedings Pending 12/31/00
Other Complaint Files Pending 12/31/00
*6 complaint files resulted in suspension of 4 attorneys.
**4 complaint files resulted in the reprimand of 3 attorneys.
***Total number reflects multiple dispositions in review and appeal processes.