Georgia Bar Complaints and Grievances Lawyer

Georgia Attorney | Warren R. Hinds, P.C.

At Warren R. Hinds, P.C., we represent lawyers in State Bar Disciplinary matters, from the grievance stage through Special Master hearings and final disposition with the Georgia Supreme Court. Our services also include consultation or representation with character fitness applications for Georgia Bar membership and bar reinstatement.

Contact us to schedule your appointment. Call 770-901-2698.

Bar Complaints

More information available from the Georgia Bar.

The ethical conduct of members of the State Bar of Georgia and those attorneys authorized to practice law in Georgia is governed by the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. Bar Rule 4-101 of Part IV [Discipline] of the Rules and Regulations for the Organization and Government of the State Bar of Georgia states:

The State Bar of Georgia is hereby authorized to maintain and enforce, as set forth in rules hereinafter stated, Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct to be observed by the members of the State Bar of Georgia and those authorized to practice law in the State of Georgia and to institute disciplinary action in the event of the violation thereof.

The Office of General Counsel of the State Bar of Georgia receives in excess of 2,100 written complaints annually. A substantially larger number of dissatisfied clients contact the State Bar each year. Many complaints are resolved prior to the filing of a grievance with the help of the State Bar's Consumer Assistance Program.

Once a grievance is filed, the allegations are reviewed to see if they implicate one or more of the 61 Bar Rules which comprise the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. (For a listing of the Bar Rules, see pages H-24 through H-59 in the 2009-2010 Georgia Bar Journal Directory and Handbook, or State Bar website.) The Comments accompanying each Bar Rule help describe and interpret the meaning and purpose of the Rule.

Under Bar Rule 4-102, an attorney may be subjected to six levels of discipline for violation of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. The types of punishment fall under headings of either confidential or public discipline, and include the following:

Confidential Discipline

  • Formal Admonition : A form of confidential discipline which declares the respondent's conduct to have been improper but does not limit the right to practice. A formal admonition shall be administered by letter as provided in Rules 4-205 through 4-208. This level of discipline would be appropriate in cases that merit the lowest form of discipline. [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(6)]
  • Investigative Panel Reprimand : A form of confidential discipline which declares the respondent's conduct to have been improper but does not limit the right to practice. An Investigative Panel Reprimand shall be administered by the Investigative Panel at a meeting of the Investigative Panel. This level of discipline would be appropriate in cases that merit more than a formal admonition but less than a review panel reprimand. [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(5)]

Public Discipline

  • Review Panel Reprimand : A form of public discipline which declares the respondent's conduct to have been improper but does not limit the right to practice. A Review Panel Reprimand shall be administered by the Review Panel at a meeting of the Review Panel. This level of discipline would be appropriate in cases that merit more than an investigative panel reprimand but less than a public reprimand. [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(4)]
  • Public Reprimand : A form of public discipline which declares the respondent's conduct to have been improper but does not limit the right to practice. A public reprimand shall be administered by a judge of the superior court in open court. This level of discipline would be appropriate in cases that merit more than a review panel reprimand but less than suspension. [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(3)]
  • Suspension : A form of public discipline which removes the respondent from the practice of law in Georgia for a definite period of time or until satisfaction of certain conditions imposed as a part of the suspension. This level of discipline would be appropriate in cases that merit more than a public reprimand but less than disbarment. This level of discipline includes publication as provided by Rule 4-219(b). [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(2)]
  • Disbarment : A form of public discipline removing the respondent from the practice of law in Georgia. This level of discipline would be appropriate in cases of serious misconduct. This level of discipline includes publication as provided by Rule 4-219(b). [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(1)]

Most of the Bar Rules are phrased as directives or imperatives (i.e. "shall" or "shall not"), although some of the Rules are aspirational (i.e. "may" or "should"). The "maximum" punishment for a violation of the various Rules is:

  • disbarment - 33 Rules;
  • public reprimand - 21 Rules; or
  • no disciplinary penalty - 7 Rules.

The Four Stages of a Bar Proceeding in Georgia

1) Review by Grievance Counsel [Bar Rule 4-202]

  • All grievances are reviewed by Grievance Counsel (other than those initiated by Supreme Court or Investigative Panel).
  • Must be in writing on memorandum of grievance form.
  • Screening process generally includes forwarding to the attorney
  • Respondent not obligated to respond at the initial stage.
  • Standard of review: Does grievance appear to allege a violation of any Bar Rule?
  • The Office of General Counsel is empowered to dismiss those grievances which are "unjustified, frivolous, patently unfounded or which fail to state facts sufficient to invoke the disciplinary jurisdiction of the State Bar of Georgia."
  • Options: Dismiss or refer to Investigative Panel.

2) Investigative Panel Review [Bar Rules 4-204 through 4-204.3]

  • Investigative Panel appoints one or more of its members to handle investigation.
  • Notice of Investigation includes list of Bar Rules which may have been violated.
  • 30 days to submit response.
  • Only 10 days to challenge the competency, qualifications, or objectivity of any Panel member.
  • Sworn response is required addressing all issues set forth in the Notice of Investigation.
  • In cases where maximum sentence is suspension or disbarment, Investigative Panel has discretion to ask the Georgia Supreme Court to enter an Order suspending the attorney until the Panel determines that an adequate response has been filed in accordance with the Rules.
  • Lawyers have a duty to cooperate. Bar Rule 9.3 states: "During the investigation of a grievance filed under these Rules, the lawyer complained against shall respond to disciplinary authorities in accordance with State Bar Rules."
  • If there is related civil litigation pending, the Panel has discretion to defer action on the matter until the civil litigation is completed (Rule 31 of the Rules of Conduct and Procedure of the Investigative Panel, State Disciplinary Board).

i) Options

  • Dismiss;
  • Dismiss with letter of instruction [Bar Rule 4-204.5] where attorney's conduct: a) did not violate Bar Rules; b) was unprofessional but not unethical; or c) although technically in violation of Bar Rules is not reprehensible, has resulted in no harm or injury to any third person, and is not in violation of the spirit of such Rules;
  • Refer to Fee Arbitration Committee or Committee on Lawyer Impairment;
  • Issue letter of admonition;
  • Issue an Investigative Panel Reprimand;
  • Issue a Notice of Discipline [Bar Rules 208.1 through 208.4]; or
  • Refer for filing of Formal Complaint.

3) Filing of Formal Complaint [Bar Rule 4-204.4, 208.4, 209 through 213]:

  • Filed where: i) Investigative Panel finds probable cause of attorney's violation of one or more Bar Rules and refers matter to Supreme Court; ii) or attorney rejects Notice of Discipline or imposition of letter of admonition or Investigative Panel reprimand.
  • Specifies "with reasonable particularity the acts complained of and the grounds for disciplinary action."
  • Attorney served with: i) notice of finding of probable cause; ii) a petition for appointment of a special master; and iii) a Formal Complaint.
  • Respondent has 10 days to object to the competency, qualifications or impartiality of the Special Master.
  • 30 days to Answer (file with State Disciplinary Board, not Supreme Court).
  • Special Master exercises general supervision of the assigned proceeding.
  • Parties may engage in discovery authorized under Georgia's Civil Practices Act.
  • Hearing held within 90 days after the filing of Answer.

i) Option: Within 30 days from receipt of the transcript of the evidentiary hearing, Special Master makes findings of fact and conclusions of law and files a report with the Review Panel. The Report shall also contain a recommendation of discipline.

4) Review Panel and Final Disposition by Supreme Court [Bar Rules 4-217 through 4-220]

  • Respondent and Office of General Counsel have 30 days after report filed to request review by the Review Panel, or matter goes to Supreme Court and both parties waive any right to file exceptions or make request for oral argument.
  • Exceptions and briefs must be filed "no later than 25 days prior to the next scheduled meeting."
  • Review Panel not bound by findings of fact and conclusions of law made by a Special Master.
  • Review Panel considers the record. No de novo hearing before the Review Panel except by unanimous consent of the Panel. Has discretion to grant oral argument.
  • Review Panel authorized to grant a new hearing.
  • Report of Review Panel filed in Supreme Court. Respondent and State Bar have 25 days to file exceptions. Court has discretion to grant oral argument on any exception.
  • After final judgment of disbarment or suspension, the attorney must immediately cease the practice of law, notify all clients within 30 days of the inability to represent them and the necessity for promptly retaining new counsel, take all actions necessary to protect the interests of client, and file a certification with the Court (within 45 days of Order).
  • Quantum of proof: Clear and convincing evidence. [Bar Rule 4-221(e)(2)]
  • Statute of limitations: 4 years from commission of act, although may be tolled for an additional 2 years if offense is unknown. [Bar Rule 4-222(a)]

Petition for Voluntary Discipline [Bar Rule 4-227]

  • Can submit at any time during proceeding.
  • Must contain admissions of fact and admissions of conduct in violation of Bar Rules.
  • Recidivist Rule [Bar Rule 4-103] - "A finding of a third or subsequent disciplinary infraction under these rules shall, in and of itself, constitute discretionary grounds for suspension or disbarment." Letters of formal admonition and Investigative Panel reprimands shall be considered disciplinary infractions for the purpose of invoking this Rule. [Bar Rule 4-208] A letter of instruction does not constitute a finding of any disciplinary infraction. [Bar Rule 4-204.5]
  • Can request specific discipline, or a range of discipline.
  • Depending on stage of proceeding, file with Office of General Counsel, Supreme Court, or Special Master.

Expungement of Records [Bar Rule 4-224]

The record or other evidence of a grievance shall be destroyed: i) after one year if dismissed after screening; or ii) after two years if dismissed by the Investigative Panel or by the Supreme Court. [Bar Rule 4-224(a)] "A lawyer may respond in the negative when asked if he or she has ever been professionally disciplined or determined to have violated any professional disciplinary rules if all grievances filed against the lawyer have either been dismissed or dismissed with a letter of instruction." [Bar Rule 4-224(f)]

An Attorney's Attorney

"He who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client."