Lawyers follow a set of guidelines established by the state bar to protect the public and the law. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania investigates complaints against lawyers and determines appropriate disciplinary action when violations occur. It’s important to note the PA Disciplinary Board Ethics Hotline is not for non-member use or complaint purposes.
What Counts as Lawyer Misconduct in Pennsylvania?
Lawyers in Pennsylvania adhere to the bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct. These rules spell out a lawyer’s responsibilities, but they function more as guidelines than absolutes, as clarified in point 19 of the Preamble, which sets forth a lawyer's responsibilities. Not all PA Bar Association complaints result in disciplinary action. Problems should be significant.
Why? Legitimate gray areas exist when it comes to practicing law that might require a lawyer to violate one rule to uphold more important responsibilities. Ethical quandaries are commonplace in the profession and the reason behind the PA Disciplinary Board Ethics Hotline. The hotline is only for members of the bar to request an assessment of their own options in complicated situations.
Complaints of misconduct are appropriate when a lawyer is breaking the law or engaging in deceptive conduct or provides such poor-quality service that his clients suffer because of it.
How Can I Make a PA Bar Association Complaint?
Consumers can make complaints to the Pennsylvania Bar Association Disciplinary Board through the website or by printing or requesting a paper form from them. The complaint should include:
- Consumer contact information.
- Attorney’s contact information.
- Relevant court case information, if applicable.
- Any previous complaints the consumer has made against the attorney.
- The specific facts of the case, including the perceived misconduct and supporting evidence.
It’s important to be as thorough as possible as the Disciplinary Board will only investigate the information provided. While these filings are confidential, it’s customary to include the names and contact details of any other people involved in the incident.
What Discipline Will My Lawyer Face?
The Pennsylvania Bar Association Disciplinary Board can opt for public or private disciplinary measures against an offending lawyer. When consumers request information about a member of the PA Bar Association, complaints and public disciplinary measures are reported.
Also, this information is not available through the PA Disciplinary Board Ethics Hotline, which is a service for members of the PA Bar Association to use. Consumers and non-member attorneys should not call the hotline.
Five types of public disciplinary action include:
- Disbarment ─ Cannot practice law for five years and must petition for reinstatement.
- Suspension ─ Cannot practice law for up to five years and must petition for reinstatement if suspended for more than one year.
- Public Censure ─ Must appear before the Supreme Court for censuring.
- Probation ─ Certain conditions are placed on the attorney’s ability to practice law.
- Public Reprimand ─ Must appear before the Pennsylvania Bar Association Disciplinary Board.
Two types of private disciplinary action include:
- Private Reprimand ─ Must appear before the Pennsylvania Bar Association Disciplinary Board.
- Informal Admonition ─ Must appear before the Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
Read More: How to See If a Lawyer Has Been Disciplined
What Can I Do If a Lawyer Steals My Money?
Unfortunately, misappropriation of funds is a risk whenever a consumer gives a professional representative, such as a lawyer, her financial account information. If a client realizes her lawyer has taken funds without permission or refuses to return fees when work wasn’t performed, a special branch of the Disciplinary Board called the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security can help you get the money back. Claims must be filed after or alongside PA Bar Association complaints.
What If My Lawyer and I Disagree on How Much I Owe?
County bar associations in Pennsylvania handle bill-related concerns through Fee Dispute Committees. Consumers should contact the individual association and request information about filing a complaint.
How Can I Complain About Prosecutor Misconduct?
Sometimes, the problem is not a client’s lawyer but that of the opposing side. In criminal cases, this is the prosecutor. Academically speaking, there are four types of widely recognized prosecutor misconduct:
- Offering inadmissible evidence in court.
- Suppressing evidence from the defense.
- Encouraging deceit from a witness.
- Prosecutorial bluffing (threats or intimidation).
People can file complaints against prosecutors with the PA Disciplinary Board.
- Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology: The Chronic Failure to Discipline Prosecutors for Misconduct - Proposals for Reform
- PADIsciplinaryBoard.org: Rules of Conduct
- PADisciplinaryBoard.org: File a Complaint
- How Do I File a Claim With the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund?
- Pennsylvania Bar Association: County Bar Associations
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