Bar News - September 17, 2010
ADO Sees Slight Increase in Complaints for 2009
The NH Supreme Court Attorney Discipline System, restructured in 2004, completed its sixth year in 2009. The office, consisting of five attorneys, four secretaries, one administrative coordinator, and one certified public accountant, also has 37 attorney volunteers and 20 lay-member volunteers, comprising three committees: Complaint Screening (CSC), Hearings and Professional Conduct (PCC).
On January 1, 2009, the caseload for the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO) included 24 docketed matters in the investigation stage and 48 docketed matters in referral to the Disciplinary Counsel for further action. The staff devoted a significant amount of time to investigation and analysis of grievances before determining which warranted docketing. It fielded hundreds of hours of telephone calls from members of the public.
General Counsel James L. DeHart, Deputy General Counsel Thomas V. Trevethick and Assistant General Counsel Janet F. DeVito took 1,414 calls and held 95 meetings with respondents, complainants and witnesses during the year.
ADO staff attorneys investigated and evaluated 195 grievances; 131 of these grievances did not meet the criteria for docketing.
The General Counsel determined that 64 of the 195 grievances filed met the requirements for docketing, as they alleged conduct that, if proven, would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct; they also appeared to otherwise satisfy the criteria for docketing as set forth in the Supreme Court Rules.
Thirty-three percent of the grievances became docketed complaints, a 25 percent increase over 2008, but a decrease from the 34 percent in 2007.
Work of the Committees
The CSC met 12 times in 2009. This committee considers and acts on requests for reconsideration of matters not docketed by General Counsel, removes complaints from the docket if they are not within the jurisdiction of the attorney discipline system or if the grievance does not meet the requirements for docketing. The committee may also dismiss complaints with or without warnings, divert attorneys out of the attorney discipline system when appropriate and may refer complaints to the Disciplinary Counsel for further action.
The Hearings Committee appoints members to sit on hearing panels. There were 16 hearings panels conducted in 2009. These panels are held at one of the following venues: the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Merrimack County Superior Court, the Carroll County Superior Court or the Attorney Discipline Office.
The Professional Conduct Committee assigns independent bar counsel when needed to investigate and prosecute complaints. The PCC also considers hearing panel reports and the entire record in disciplinary matters, conducts oral arguments and determines whether there is clear and convincing evidence of violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The PCC has the power and the authority to issue protective orders, dismissals with or without a warning, reprimands, public censures or suspensions not to exceed six months.
Editorís note: For the full 2009 Attorney Discipline Report, visit www.nhattyreg.org.