Georgia Bar Complaints and Grievances Lawyer
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.
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.
- The State Bar of Georgia is authorized to maintain and enforce the 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 approximately 2,000 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-28 through H-68 in the 2017-2018 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:
- Formal Admonition [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(6)]
- Confidential Reprimand [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(5)]
- State Disciplinary Review Board Reprimand [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(4)]
- Public Reprimand [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(3)]
- Suspension [Bar Rule 4-102(b)(2)]
- Disbarment[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, submitted in writing, are reviewed by the Grievance Counsel. As part of the review process, the grievance is typically forwarded to the attorney, though the attorney is not obligated to respond at this step in the case.
- The grievance is examined to determine if it accuses the attorney of a violation of any Bar Rules.
- If it appears to contain a violation, the Office of General Counsel will review and either dismiss (including situations where the accusation was completely false and frivolous) or refer to the State Disciplinary Board.
2) State Disciplinary Board Review [Bar Rules 4-204 through 4-204.3]
- Once the grievance has been passed to the State Disciplinary Board, one or more members will be appointed to handle the investigation. The Notice of Investigation will detail the grievance alone with a list of Bar Rules that appear to potentially have been violated.
- The accused attorney has 30 days to submit a response, but only 10 days to challenge a Board member on grounds of competency, qualifications or objectivity.
- A sworn response to the issues is required in the Notice. When the grievance is severe, with the potential for suspension or disbarment, an order can be entered by the Georgia Supreme Court to suspend the attorney until a response has been filed.
- Lawyers must cooperate, according to Bar Rule 9.3
- If civil litigation is also pending against the attorney, the Panel can defer action on the grievance until the civil matter is settled.
- A dismissal or dismissal with a letter of instruction [Bar Rule 4-204.5]
- Refer to Fee Arbitration Committee or Committee on Lawyer Impairment
- A letter of admonition is issued
- A State Disciplinary Board Reprimand is issued
- A Notice of Discipline [Bar Rules 208.1 through 208.4] is issued
- A referral for filing of a Formal Complaint is issued
3) Filing of Formal Complaint [Bar Rule 4-204.4, 208.4, 209 through 213]:
- A formal complaint is filed in situations where probable cause of the violation was found by the State Disciplinary Board or the Notice of Discipline, letter of admonition or reprimand by State Disciplinary Board was rejected by the attorney.
- The attorney has 10 days to object to the Special Master after he or she is appointed, and the attorney has been served with the notice of finding probable cause, a petition for appointment of a special master and the Formal Complaint.
- 30 days are granted to answer the notice.
- A hearing is held within 90 days after the filing of answer.
- 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 Board and Final Disposition by Supreme Court [Bar Rules 4-214 through 4-220]
- The Respondent and Office of General Counsel have 30 days after report filed to request review by the Review Board, or the 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 up to or before 25 days before to the next scheduled meeting.The Review Board is not bound by findings of fact and conclusions of law made by a Special Master in their consideration of the record.
- There is no de novo hearing before the Review Board.
- Report of Review Board filed in Supreme Court. Respondent and State Bar have 30 days to file exceptions. Court has discretion to grant oral argument on any exception upon application.
- 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]
A petition for voluntary discipline can be submitted at any time during the proceeding in question. This petition is required to include admissions of fact and admissions of conduct in violation of Bar Rules. A specific discipline can be requested or a range of disciplinary actions. The petition may be filed with the Office of General Counsel, Supreme Court or Special Master, depending on which stage of the proceeding has been reached.
- 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 State Disciplinary Board 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]
Expungement of Records [Bar Rule 4-224]
After a grievance has been filed, the record or any other evidence may be destroyed in specific situations, including:
- After one year (if the grievance has been dismissed after review)
- After two years (if the State Disciplinary Board or Supreme Court has dismissed the claim)
- “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 referred to Consumer Assistance Program dismissed, or dismissed with a letter of instruction.” [Bar Rule 4-224(f)]
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