Bar News - February 17, 2012
ABA Report: Changes Needed to Attorney Discipline
A 73-page report to the NH Supreme Court by a study team from the ABA Standing Committee on Professional Discipline has recommended administrative and procedural changes to the NH attorney discipline system.
In a January 30, 2012, letter to NHBA President Jennifer Parent, NH Supreme Court Chief Justice Linda Stewart Dalianis asked the Bar for its help "in evaluating the recommendations and in formulating our own plans for those changes that would benefit the public and New Hampshire attorneys."
The Court initially asked for comments from the Bar Association by March 15 on the 18 recommendations (some with multiple elements). Parent asked the court to consider extending the period for comment on the lengthy, far-reaching report. She has appointed a work group of Bar members who have previously served on the PCC or have experience in disciplinary matters to shape a response to the recommendations for consideration by the NHBA Board of Governors.
The Court asked that the ABA report be posted on the Bar’s website and that the NHBA gather comments from the membership. At presstime, an instrument for collecting responses from Bar members was under development and the ABA report prepared for posting. When this material is ready, it will be at www.nhbar.org, and links will be included in the NHBA e-Bulletin. The posted material is expected to include a summary outline of the report’s findings and recommendations, with citations to current rules and practices, compiled by NHBA Vice President Jaye Rancourt who currently sits as the NHBA representative on the PCC.
Dalianis said that the Court was "very proud" of the attorney discipline system and she does not believe that the system suffers from "serious shortcomings." Instead, she wrote, "we seek independent recommendations for ways to improve a system that already serves the public and members of the legal profession well but strives to serve them better."
In her letter to the Bar Association, Dalianis said: "We are asking for your help because we know the Bar Association is committed to ensuring that its members observe the highest professional ethics." She added that the Court is also seeking comment on the findings from the professional staff and volunteer leaders of the Attorney Discipline Office and the Professional Conduct Committee.
The call for the review by the ABA may be tied to the fact that the discipline system is in a time of transition, following last spring’s retirement of James DeHart, the longtime General Counsel at the Attorney Discipline Office. The office is currently headed on an interim basis by longtime Deputy General Counsel Thomas Trevethick.
In its overview, the ABA panel lauded the experience and dedication to public service of the ADO staff and its "easily accessible… very ‘user-friendly" website. It noted, however that the NH attorney discipline system, in striving to address due process concerns has "some unnecessary barriers to efficiency that cause delay in the process." The committee proposes a number of changes intended to speed up screening and dismissal of some complaints. One section calls for a reevaluation of the ADO’s rules and policies governing the availability of information; some measures would reduce what information is available, while other provisions would make some information more accessible.
It pointed to "procedural requirements for the presentation of grievances that could be eliminated or revised…to ensure that members of the public will not be unnecessarily discouraged from bringing matters forth for investigation."
Recommendations concerning procedures and sanctions will likely draw both criticism and support from lawyers familiar with attorney discipline matters, either as parties or as attorneys who practice in that area.
At presstime, a revised deadline for comments from the Bar Association had not been decided upon.
NHBA President Parent encourages all Bar members to read the report and provide their feedback to the Bar Association. "There may be other opportunities to comment on potential changes to the discipline system since some would require changes to court rules," Parent said. "But if there are ideas you support or ideas you disagree with, we encourage you to comment now. We want the input provided to the Court by the Bar Association to be as valuable and reflective of the NH legal community as it can be."
Editor’s note: Watch for additional posted material regarding the ADO report at www.nhbar.org.