The Chief Disciplinary Counsel (CDC) of the State Bar of Texas receives grievances or complaints about professional misconduct from members of the public about licensed attorneys. If the CDC determines that the attorney has violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the attorney can face various sanctions.
When the CDC receives a written grievance, they make an initial determination as to whether the grievance alleges violations of professional ethics rules for attorneys. The CDC makes this determination or classification within 30 days of receiving the grievance.
If the grievance does not allege a violation of the ethics rules, the CDC classifies it as an inquiry and dismisses it without any further action. However, if the grievance does allege a violation of the ethics rules, the CDC classifies it as a complaint and sends it to the attorney. This notice gives the attorney 30 days to respond.
Next, the CDC will initiate and complete an investigation. The purpose of this investigation is to determine whether there is just cause to believe that professional misconduct occurred. The CDC then forwards its determination to the Summary Disposition Panel. The Panel then either accepts or rejects the CDC’s recommendation. If the Panel votes to accept the CDC’s finding of just cause, the matter then proceeds to a contested trial. This trial occurs before an evidentiary panel of the grievance committee or a district court, with or without a jury.
Potential Sanctions for Attorney Violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct
If the grievance committee panel, judge, or jury, as applicable, finds that the attorney has violated ethics rules, a separate hearing may be scheduled to determine the appropriate sanctions for the violations. In determining the appropriate disciplinary sanction, the panel or the district court considers the following factors:
- Nature and degree of the violation
- History of previous violations
- Losses or damages to clients that the violations caused
- Harm to the profession that the violations caused
- Future deterrent effect of the sanctions and avoidance of repetition
- Whether the attorney profited from the violations
- Maintenance of respect for the profession
- Conduct of the attorney during the disciplinary proceedings
Levels of Discipline for Attorney Misconduct in Texas
A private reprimand is available as a sanction only if you choose to have a grievance committee panel hear your case. If you choose the district court to hear your case, you cannot get a private reprimand as a sanction. A private reprimand is not public, not published anywhere, and not released upon inquiry by the public. However, it does remain a part of your attorney disciplinary history. There also are selected circumstances in which you cannot get a private reprimand, such as if you previously received two or more private reprimands in the past ten years.
A public reprimand is published along with your name. The fact that you have received a public reprimand for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct is accessible to the public. You cannot get a public reprimand if you have had a public reprimand for violating the same rule within the previous five years. You also are ineligible for a public reprimand if you have had two or more public reprimands, whether for the same rule or not, within the previous five years.
Suspension for a Term Certain
A suspension for a specific term or an active suspension prevents you from practicing law for a specific period. At the end of the suspension period, you regain eligibility to practice law, as long as you have complied with all other requirements, such as payment of bar dues and compliance with legal education requirements.
Fully Probated Suspension
A fully probated suspension allows you to continue practicing law but also requires you to comply with certain conditions of probation for a period. Some of the typical conditions of probation may include:
- Refraining from engaging in further misconduct
- Refraining from violating any state or federal law
- Keeping your mailing, residential, and business addresses current
- Following applicable continuing education requirements
- Following the rules on maintaining client trust accounts
- Responding to any requests from the CDC about investigations in connection with allegations of misconduct
Other terms of probation depend on the nature of the misconduct. For instance, you might have to complete additional education, participate in substance abuse counseling, undergo a psychological evaluation, or practice under the supervision of a designated monitor. You also might have to pay restitution or attorney’s fees.
Partially Probated Suspension
If you receive a partially probated suspension, you receive an active suspension for 30 days at a minimum. After you have served your active suspension, you must then serve a period of probation, which allows you to practice law subject to various conditions.
Disbarment is the most severe sanction that an attorney can receive in that you completely lose your license to practice law. However, after five years, you can petition the district court to reinstate your law license if you can prove that reinstatement would be in the best interest of the public, the profession, and the ends of justice. If the court grants your application, you must take the bar exam before being licensed to practice law again.
Ancillary sanctions are miscellaneous provisions that may attach to any penalty that an attorney receives for misconduct. For example, an attorney may have to pay restitution to a client or the Client Security Fund of the State Bar. An attorney also may have to pay attorney’s fees as a sanction for professional misconduct.
Allow Us to Represent Your Interests Before the State Bar of Texas
We pride ourselves on the fact that so many Texas lawyers have chosen us to represent them in attorney disciplinary proceedings before the State Bar of Texas. If you face a formal complaint from the State Bar, you need to act immediately to protect your law license and career. Contact Bertolino, LLP today at (512) 515-9518 or visit us online.