1 ALABAMA STATE BAR THE DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION TELEPHONE 334-269-1515 BOX 671 MONTGOMERY, AL 36101 FAX 334/2616311 DELIVERY ADDRESS 415 DEXTER AVENUE MONTGOMERY. AL 36104 MEMORANDUM To: Complainant From: Disciplinary Commission Subject: Filing of Complaint Against A Lawyer Due to limited storage we now scan all materials, which include complaints and attorneys' responses. Therefore, we ask that when you submit your complaint, please do not bind, staple, or insert tabbed dividers. If you want to identify exhibits, please mark them in the bottom corner or insert identifiable sheets before each exhibit. Three-ring binders are also unnecessary. Also, if you wish to make note of an item on one of your exhibits please do not use a sticky note. Instead, write your remarks on a sheet of paper placed in front of the page on which you are commenting.
2 RULE 30 ALABAMA RULES OF DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURE OF THE ALABAMA STATE BAR, ADOPTED BY THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA. PROVIDES THATALL DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS SHALL REMAIN CONFIDENTIAL UNTIL A PLEA OF GUILTY OR THE DISCIPLINARY BOARD OR DISCIPLINARY COMMISSION MAKES A FINDING OF GUILT. IMPORTANT! Read this brochure before completing the attached complaint form. Complaints Against Alabama Lawyers T his brochure is for anyone w ho is considering filing a complaint against a law yer w ith the A labama State Bar. I t explains how and w here to file a complaint against an A labama law y er. T he Supreme C ourt of A labama, through the A labama State Bar, regulates law y er conduct in this state. Filing a complaint is a very serious matter. Filing a Complaint A ll law y ers w ho practice law in A labama must be members of the A labama State Bar.
3 T he A l abam a State B ar s gr i ev ance sy stem w as establ i shed by the Su pr em e C ou r t of A labama to enfor ce unifor m standar ds of pr ofessional conduct for law y er s. F iling a complaint should not tak e the pl ace of com m u ni cati ng w i th y ou r l aw y er i n an attem pt to r esol v e d i f f er ences. I f y ou r pr obl em i s the r esu l t of a m i su nder stand i ng or a br eak dow n in communication, the problem m ay be sol v ed by a cand i d tal k w i th y ou r l aw y er . I f y ou hav e m ad e a si ncer e ef f or t to r esol v e y ou r pr obl em and sti l l bel i ev e that the l aw y er m ay hav e v i ol ated an ethi cs r u l e, f i l e y ou r complaint. A complaint should not be made lightly or used to tr y to gain an adv antage in y our tr ansacti ons w i th a l aw y er.
4 A l aw y er w ho i s accu sed of m i scond u ct su f fer s w hether or not he i s found to be at fault. M or e than a claim of misconduct is needed to justify discipline. I t tak es ev i d ence pr oof. How To File a Complaint A fter you have completed reading this brochure, you must submit your complaint by using the enclosed C omplaint Form. A dditional pages may be attached. A ttach copies of any documents that support your allegations. Please do not send or iginal documents. T he B ar w ill not copy y our documents and return them to you. T he complaint should be signed, in the pr esence of, and notar i z ed by a notar y pu bl i c. T he A l abam a State B ar d oes not char ge y ou f ees or costs for filing y our complaint against an A labama law y er. What Happens after You File a Complaint A l l com pl ai nts f i l ed w i th the A l abam a State B ar ar e r ev i ew ed by B ar cou nsel to d eter m i ne i f the complai nt has sufficient mer it to w ar r ant a full i nv esti gati on.
5 I n most cases, a copy of y our com pl ai nt i s sent to the l aw y er f or a r esponse. O nce the l aw y er s r esponse i s r ecei v ed , y ou r com pl ai nt and hi s r esponse w i l l be r ev i ew ed agai n by B ar cou nsel to d eter m i ne w hat f u r ther action, if any, should be taken. Y ou will be sent written notification of the decision. If it is d eter m i ned that ther e i s i nsu f f i ci ent ev i d ence to m er i t a f or m al i nv esti gati on, then y ou w i l l be notified. H owever, if there is sufficient information to establish that an ethics violation possibly occurred, a formal investigation will be opened. Some investigations will be sent to local Bar gr i ev ance com m i ttees, and other s w i l l be i nv esti gated by the B ar.
6 T he pr ocessing of most for mal inv estigations at this stage can tak e any w her e fr om six to eighteen months, depending on the complexity of the situation. Y ou will be notified in writing about the outcome of y our complaint. Y ou may be contacted dur ing the i nv estigation. I f a hear i ng i s hel d bef or e the D i sci pl i nar y B oar d , y ou m ay be r equ i r ed to attend and testi f y . What the Complaint Process Cannot Do Recover money damages; Set aside a criminal conviction; Make the lawyer take action you wish him or her to take; Offer assistance with your pending legal matter or provide legal advice; Substitute for other civil or criminal remedies; Resolve disputed lawyer s fees (see Fee Disputes ); Punish the rude behavior of a lawyer; Assist with complaints against sitting judges; Address allegations that lawyers acting as guardians ad litem have taken positions with which you disagree; or Resolve disputes over debts of a lawyer, such as a lawyer s failure to pay a bill to you.
7 N ot all allegations of misconduct amount to a v iolation of an ethi cs r ule. A n honest d i sagr eem ent betw een a l aw y er and cl i ent abou t the handling of a case is not misconduct. A mistak e or er r or of judgment is not a cause for discipline. What Happens If It Is Determined That a Lawyer Violated an Ethics Rule I f the D isciplinary C ommission determines that the law yer has violated an ethics ru l e, they may impose discipline. The lawyer is notified of the C ommission s decision. The lawyer is normally given 14 days to: (1) accept the proposed discipline; (2) request reconsideration upon submitting additional evidence; or (3) demand formal charges and a hearing. How a Lawyer May Be Disciplined P r obation - T he l aw y er w i l l be m oni tor ed , m ay be r equ i r ed to r epor t to a d i sci pl i nar y authority, and his practice may be restricted during a specific period of time.
8 Private reprimand - A w r i tten r epr i m and , si gned by the P r esi d ent of the A l abam a State B ar i s sent to the l aw y er and pl aced i n the l aw y er s per m anent f i l e. Public reprimand - T her e ar e tw o ty pes. I n both, the l aw y er m u st appear befor e a pu bl i c m eeti ng of the B oar d of B ar C om m i ssi oner s, w her e the r epr i m and w i l l be r ead to hi m by the P r esi d ent of the A l abam a State B ar . H ow ev er , one ty pe of pu bl i c r epr i m and w i l l be pu bl i shed i n both the local newspaper where the lawyer practices and The Alabama Lawyer (a publication that is distributed to all members of the Alabama State Bar). The other type of public reprimand i s pu bl i shed onl y i n T he A l abam a L aw y er.
9 T hese r epr i m and s ar e al so pl aced i n the l aw y er s per m anent f i l e. Suspension - T he l aw y er i s su spend ed f r om pr acticing law for a specific amount of time, ranging from 45 days to five years. D epending on the length of suspension, law yers may be r ei nstated to pr acti ce l aw w i thou t a hear i ng. I n som e cases a l aw y er m ay not r esu m e the pr actice of law until r einstated after public notice and a hearing. D i sbar m ent - T he l aw y er i s d i sbar r ed . A d i sbar m ent i s f or a per i od of f i v e y ear s. T he l aw y er m u st peti ti on the B ar f or r ei nstatem ent i n or d er to be al l ow ed to r esu m e the pr acti ce of l aw . Fee Disputes F ee d i spu tes ar e not hand l ed by the A l abam a State B ar s gr i ev ance sy stem becau se f ee disputes gener ally do not inv olv e questions of ethics or pr ofessional conduct.
10 Clie nt Se curity Funds T he C l i ent Secu r i ty F u nd w as establ i shed by the A l abam a State B ar to pr ov i d e r ei m bu r sem ent to indiv iduals w ho have lost money or property due to the dishonesty of an A labama law yer. A ll claims are investigated by the Client Security Fund Committee. Reimbursement is made at the d i scr eti on of the C l i ent Secu r i ty F u nd C om m i ttee i n appr opr i ate cases. T her e i s no r i ght to r ei m bu r sem ent and r ei m bu r sem ent i s l i m i ted . T he F u nd i s a r em ed y of l ast r esor t f or those w ho cannot obtain r eimbur sement fr om other sour ces. I t y ou w ish to mak e application to this fund please contact the A labama State Bar for additional information. Who Will Know About Your Complaint and the Information Provided to the Bar I n most instances, the law y er w ill be sent a copy of y our complaint and copies of the infor mation y ou pr ov ide.