Bar News - May 18, 2012
Bar Members Reject Drastic ABA Discipline Proposals
Through an online survey, a comment page on the Bar’s website and written comments gathered at Midyear Meeting and at section meetings, nearly 500 comments from Bar members were received regarding proposed changes to the NH attorney discipline system.
The overwhelming majority of commenters and survey respondents saw no reason to adopt drastic measures advocated in the report by a study team from the ABA’s Standing Committee on Professional Discipline.
• Nearly 95 percent of attorneys responding to the survey disagreed with the idea of eliminating the statute of limitations on complaints against attorneys;
Respondents on the whole did favor some improvements to the disciplinary process, including a “more open and transparent appointment process” to fill ADO committee vacancies; subpoena power for ADO investigations; performance standards on the timeliness of processing complaints; better technology resources for the ADO; and formal training for volunteers who participate in ADO committees. Sentiment was mixed on whether the ADO should hire additional staff, such as an investigator and auditor. In comments on the website and through the survey, members complained that the court fees for attorney discipline are already too high and that no staff should be added.
• More than 93 percent of survey respondents oppose elimination of the requirement that complainants in attorney discipline cases must have a connection to the case;
• Several recommendations that would reduce the number of steps a complaint undergoes were opposed by up to 70 percent of members. Comments indicated members are concerned that attorneys would be deprived due process protections if, for example, the responsibility for initial screening and then the investigation and prosecution were handled by the same professional in the Attorney Discipline Office.
The proposals were contained in a 73-page report forwarded to the Court by the ABA study team, which conducted a study of the NH Attorney Discipline Office and Professional Conduct Committee last summer at the request of the Court, following the retirement of longtime PCC general counsel James DeHart. The Court then asked the Bar Association to survey members and obtain feedback.
Over the past four months, the NH Bar Association has conducted an extensive process to analyze the recommendations contained in a 73-page report, preparing materials comparing the changes to current practice, and soliciting comment from members.
Association officers have presented initial findings to the Court and more meetings will be held to focus on potential improvements to the attorney discipline process.
A summary of the survey results is posted at nhbar.org, along with the original report, and an outline that compares the recommendations to current practice.