Bar News - August 15, 2008
Attorney Discipline Office Reports Greater Efficiency in Handling Cases
The following excerpts constitute only a portion of the recent report from the Attorney Discipline Office. Read the report in its entirety.
On January 1, 2007, the caseload for the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO) included 107 docketed matters in the screening stage, and 41 matters referred to Disciplinary Counsel for further action, for a total of 148 docketed matters. During the year, ADO staff attorneys also evaluated 198 grievances, and determined that 130 of them did not meet the criteria for docketing. As of December 31, 2007, there were 45 matters pending in the screening stage, and 58 matters referred to Disciplinary Counsel, for a total of 103 matters.
II. Office Operations
The attorney discipline system consists of five attorneys, four secretaries, one administrative coordinator and one certified public accountant.
During 2007, the ADO staff continued to field hundreds of hours of telephone calls from members of the public. A total of 2,021 calls were taken by General Counsel James L. DeHart, Deputy General Counsel Thomas V. Trevethick and Assistant General Counsel Janet F. DeVito. The above attorneys held 237 meetings during the year. More than 318 packets of information were mailed to the public about how to file a grievance.
The General Counsel determined that 68 of the 198 grievances met the requirements for docketing, as they alleged conduct that, if proven, would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct and appeared to otherwise satisfy the criteria for docketing as set forth in the Supreme Court Rules. The percentage of matters docketed in 2007 as complaints was 34%, an increase from 26% in 2006, and a decrease from 47% in 2005. While the percentage of matters docketed will always be somewhat fluid, the percentages have generally been lower the last two years. The change is the result of increased review, investigation and analysis in determining which grievances warrant being docketed. Some grievances that may have been docketed in the past are now being identified as lacking merit sooner in the process.
After more than 25 years in downtown Concord, the office was relocated at the direction of the Supreme Court to 4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102, in Concord, at the end of May. The new space provides increased parking for the public. The lack of storage space at the new location created the need to store some closed files at Manchester District Court.
Rule 37(A) was amended in March, giving the ADO General Counsel authority to dismiss docketed matters without a vote of the Complaint Screening Committee. The rule change enabled the General Counsel to dismiss 45 docketed matters in 2007. Any complainant whose matter is dismissed by the General Counsel has an opportunity to request that the matter be reconsidered by the Complaint Screening Committee. Three matters of the 45 were reconsidered, resulting in two orders affirming the dismissal, and one reprimand by consent, issued by the Professional Conduct Committee.
The ADO staff developed tracking standards to be implemented in 2008, to provide further information to the Court on the time necessary to thoroughly evaluate and dispose of matters.
[Comments here re: Craig A. Calaman, CPA, his audits and compliance reviews. Also comments re: staff attorneys serving as faculty in educational programs.]
III. Committee Composition Update and Outcomes
The Complaint Screening Committee (CSC) is comprised of nine members: five attorneys and four lay members. This Committee met eleven times in 2007.
The Hearings Committee is comprised of 22 attorney members and 13 lay members.
The Hearings Committee Chair appointed 11 hearing panels that were each comprised of three attorney members and two lay members, a decrease from 14 hearing panels in 2006 and 2005. There was one pre-hearing conference in three matters, four one-day hearings and one three-day hearing. Hearing panels convened at various locations around the State, including: the Administrative Office of the Courts, Merrimack County Superior Court and Concord District Court.
The Hearings Committee process was waived by stipulation of the parties in 12 matters. This allowed the disciplinary matter to proceed directly to the Professional Conduct Committee.
The Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) is comprised of eight attorney members and four lay members. Ellen L. Arnold, Esquire, of Lebanon, completed her one-year term on the Committee, while serving as New Hampshire Bar Association Vice President. James J. Tenn, Jr., Esquire, of Manchester, began his term as the New Hampshire Bar Association Vice President and was appointed to the Committee on August 1, 2007. The PCC met monthly.
A retreat was held on July 11, 2007, to discuss systems issues and coordination of the disciplinary system functions, from each Committee’s perspective. The chairs and vice chairs of each committee, as well as ADO professional staff, attended the session.
IV. Statistics [Editor’s note: In this section several tables present the types of underlying legal matters giving rise to docketed complaints in the past three years, the number of years the attorney was admitted to practice in New Hampshire at the time the complaint was docketed, the distribution of misconduct findings for the past three years, a listing of the Rules that were found to have been violated in 2007, 2006 and 2005, violations of Rules as a percentage of total violations, a breakdown of the number of docketed complaints that were concluded by the Attorney Discipline System for the years 2007, 2006, 2005 and 2004.]
V. Disposal of Matters by the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court concluded eight matters originating from the attorney discipline system in 2007. The dispositions included six disbarments and two two-year suspensions.
When the attorney discipline system was restructured effective January 1, 2004, one of the primary goals was to address a substantial backlog and create a more efficient process. As can be seen in Figure F above, the number of matters concluded each year has steadily increased. In 2007, more than twice as many complaints were concluded than was the case in 2004.