Bar News - August 13, 2010
Morning Mail: ADO Website: Correcting Misconceptions
The following letter appeared in the Concord Monitor on July 13:
Annmarie Timmins’ article on the first page of Friday’s [July 9] Monitor was an interesting and useful discussion of the new website that the Attorney Discipline Office has opened, which allows for Internet access to disciplinary proceedings involving New Hampshire lawyers since 2004. However, the article ("...you can search...the penalties given, from disbarments to warnings"), and the article’s headline ("Site Lists Disciplined Lawyers") suggest that if a lawyer’s enforcement proceeding is on the site, the lawyer has committed misconduct and been disciplined. In close to half of the cases, this is not true.
The new website provides information on "Public Discipline (or Warnings)." Dismissal of a complaint with a "warning" is by far the most frequent result for enforcement proceedings now listed on the site. There have been 122 dismissals with warnings since 2004, while "public censures," the next most frequent result, were given 31 times over the same time period.
When a lawyer’s case is "dismissed with a warning," this constitutes a finding of no professional misconduct. Further, under the rules that govern the Attorney Discipline Office, the issuance of a warning does not constitute discipline, or a sanction, of any variety. In short, almost half of the enforcement proceedings now accessible on the new website do not involve disciplined lawyers guilty of professional misconduct.
The confusion in the Monitor’s story is understandable. The distinction between non-disciplinary and disciplinary results now listed on the website does not leap out at someone who is not familiar with the disciplinary process and terminology used by the rules. Unfortunately, this distinction is crucial for practicing lawyers. Few lawyers expect to go through lengthy careers without committing errors, but almost without exception, they expect to complete their careers without committing professional misconduct or being sanctioned by disciplinary authorities.
Peter G. Beeson, Concord