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Bar News - October 16, 2009


Attorney Discipline Office Reports Progress During 2008

The following is a brief introduction to the 2009 report from the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO). Bar News has reproduced here only the first three sections and the first of several charts which detail the activities of the ADO during the year 2008. Among these charts, you will find figures showing:
  • the number of years the subject attorney was admitted to practice in New Hampshire at the time the complaint was docketed;
  • the number of matters processed by the Complaint Screening Committee in 2008 as compared to the two previous years;
  • the types of matters acted upon by the Professional Conduct Committee;
  • a listing of the Rules violated;
  • the number of docketed complaints concluded by the ADO, by year (2004-2008).
To view the report in its entirety, go to: http://www.nhbar.org/publications/ADO-AnnualReport.asp.

I. Overview

As 2008 drew to a close, the revised attorney discipline system ended its fifth year of operation. The system began with a large backlog of cases inherited from the previous single committee structure. It was the workload and the backlog that created the need to change the system.

Although the early days of the new system were somewhat slow to show results, the passage of time and some adjustments have effectively eliminated the backlog. Some matters are able to be concluded without undue delay. However, there are always a number of cases in which, because of complexity or other reasons, much more time is necessary to bring them to a conclusion.

II. Attorney Discipline Office Caseload

On January 1, 2008, the caseload for the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO) included 45 docketed matters in the investigation stage, and 58 matters referred to Disciplinary Counsel for further action, for a total of 103 pending docketed matters. During the year, ADO staff attorneys also evaluated 241 grievances, and after a preliminary investigation, determined that 180 did not meet the criteria for docketing. There were 61 matters docketed in 2008.

As of December 31, 2008, there were 73 pending matters at the ADO. Of those, 24 matters were pending in the investigation stage. Only one matter was from 2007, and 23 matters were from 2008. There were 49 matters pending that were referred to Disciplinary Counsel, down from 58 matters pending at the close of 2007. Three matters were docketed in 2003, five in 2004, four matters in 2005, seven in 2006, 17 in 2007, and 13 matters pending were docketed in 2008.

III. Office Operations

The attorney discipline system consists of five attorneys, four secretaries, one administrative coordinator and one certified public accountant.

During 2008, the ADO staff continued to field hundreds of hours of telephone calls from members of the public. Almost 1,500 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 121 meetings during the year. More than 365 packets of information were mailed to the public describing how to file a grievance, a 14.7 percent increase from 2007.

Figure A illustrates the types of underlying legal matters giving rise to docketed complaints in the past three years.

The General Counsel determined that 61 of the 241 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 grievances docketed as complaints was 25 percent, a decrease from 34 percent in 2007, and an increase from 26 percent in 2006. The staff continues to devote significant amounts of time on investigation and analysis to determine which grievances warrant docketing.

Grievances were filed by a variety of individuals associated with legal matters, including 66 percent by the Respondentís client, 16 percent by the opposing party, 7 percent by a third party, 5 percent by referral, and 6 percent from other sources.

FIGURE A

Underlying Legal Matters 2008 Percentage
in 2008
Percentage
in 2007
Percentage
in 2006
Family Law/ Adoption 15 25% 35% 29%
Criminal 17 28% 21% 14%
Real Estate 4 7% 7% 8%
Probate/ Estate Planning 4 7% 4% 11%
Personal Injury 3 5% 7% 10%
Bankruptcy 3 5% 3% 0%
Other 5 8% 7% 8%
Workers Compensation 0 0% 0% 4%
Business Law/ Contracts/ Corporate 2 3% 2% 2%
Collection/ Consumer Protection 0 0% 2% 2%
Municipal/ Zoning, Eminent Domain 0 0% 0% 2%
Civil Suit/ Litigation 7 11% 10% 4%
Small Claims 1 1% 2% 4%
Reciprocal Discipline 0 0% 0% 2%
Total Legal Matters 61 100% 100% 100%

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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