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 and the North Dakota Rules for Lawyer Discipline provide the procedural framework for the handling and disposition of complaints. By Supreme Court 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 conduct and discipline.
When a written complaint alleging attorney misconduct is received, it is filed with the Board's secretary and referred to the District Inquiry Committee Northeast, Southeast or West 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 include dismissal, issuing an admonition, probation with the consent of the respondent attorney, or directing that formal proceedings be instituted.
Formal proceedings are instituted when a petition for discipline is filed which outlines the charges against the attorney. A hearing panel is appointed by the chair of the Disciplinary Board to consider the petition and other evidence regarding it, make findings and a recommendation, and enter appropriate orders. Present and past members of the Board may serve as hearing panel members. Recommendations of the hearing panel which do not result in dismissal, consent probation, or reprimand are filed directly with the Court. The Court's standard of review in these instances is de novo on the record. 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. This petition must show that the panel acted arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably.
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 2002.
|New Complaint Files Opened in 2002||219|
|General Nature of Complaints:|
Client Funds & Property
Conflict of Interest
Disability/Incapacity to Practice Law
Failure to Communicate/Cooperate with Client
Petition for Reinstatement
Unauthorized Practice of Law
|Formal Proceedings Pending From Prior Years||23|
|Other Complaint Files Pending From Prior Years||42|
|Appeals Filed with Disciplinary Board in 2002||30|
|Appeals Filed with Supreme Court in 2002||2|
|Total Files for Consideration in 2002||316|
|Disposition of Complaint Files:|
Dismissed by Inquiry Committees
Dismissed without Prejudice by Inquiry Committees
Summary Dismissals by Inquiry Committees
Admonitions Issued by Inquiry Committees
Consent Probation by Inquiry Committees
Disciplinary Board Approves IC Dismissal
Disciplinary Board Disapproves IC Disposition
Disciplinary Board Approves IC Admonition
Disciplinary Board Approves Consent Probation Dismissal by Hearing Panel
Reprimand by Hearing Panel
Reprimand by Supreme Court
Reinstatement by Supreme Court
Suspensions by Supreme Court
Disbarments by Supreme Court
Interim Suspension by Supreme Court
Formal Proceedings Pending 12/31/02
Other Complaint Files Pending 12/31/02
*12 files resulted in the disbarment of three attorneys.
**Number includes an interim suspension by the Supreme Court.