Bar News - March 16, 2012
Bar Members Comment on Attorney Discipline Proposals
The NH Supreme Court has agreed to extend to May 15 a deadline for the NH Bar Association to provide comments from the membership on recommendations for changes to the NH attorney discipline process.
A team of volunteers from the ABA Standing Committee on Professional Discipline, responding to a request from the NH Supreme Court, spent several days in New Hampshire last summer, studying the state’s discipline process for attorneys. In December, the group issued a 73-page report with 18 recommendations (some with sub-parts). The Court subsequently asked for input from the Bar Association.
An NHBA working group initially reviewed the recommendations and found that the recommendations generally fell into one of three categories: recommendations worthy of consideration; those that jeopardize due process or would hamper the effectiveness of the process; and third, recommendations that would have a notable fiscal impact on the mandatory Court discipline fee all attorneys pay.
The working group also developed a concise outline of the report’s recommendation that helpfully adds a brief description of how the process currently operates. Feedback from members is being actively sought through a comments page on the website, mentions at last week’s Midyear Meeting and handwritten comments provided there, and a forthcoming online survey.
All of these materials, including links to the entire report and to the Attorney Discipline Office website and the Rules of Professional Conduct, are at www.nhbar.org. The link will remain on the home page until at least May 1.
Below are the most significant recommendations, from the observations of the work group and reinforced by some of the comments already received from members.
The numbering refers to the full report.
Recommendations of Major Concern
#10 – Disciplinary matters should be exempt from the statutes of limitations.
#9 – Court should eliminate restrictions on who may file a grievance and the requirement that grievants provide respondents with copies of all communications to the ADO.
#1 & 3 – The Bar Association’s direct representative (Vice President) on the Professional Conduct Committee should serve as ex officio, not as a voting member of the PCC.
#2.B – Remove Complaint Screening Committee from process of ratifying or rejecting decisions to prosecute made by the ADO General Counsel.
#2.C – Consolidate the assignment of investigative and prosecutorial duties now handled by separate ADO counsel.
#17.A – The Court should amend Rule 37(9) to provide for interim suspension upon a finding of guilt, before a decision is made on a motion to reconsider.
Recommendations Worth Considering
#2.D – The Court should provide the ADO with the ability to issue investigative subpoenas.
#3.C & 7 – A mandatory, well-constructed training program should be implemented for all volunteers serving on disciplinary committees.
#11.C – The Court should reconsider the necessity of keeping for public inspection letters to grievants involving individuals not subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
#13 – Dismissals with warning should not constitute prior discipline for use in subsequent formal disciplinary proceedings.
#6 – The ADO and the PCC should develop and implement performance standards (timeliness of hearings scheduling, dispositions.)
Recommendations with Significant Fiscal Impact
#5 – The ADO must be provided with enhanced technology resources.
#2.E – The services of an investigator and a paralegal would benefit the ADO.