The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary System (to Top ↑)
In 1990, the Supreme Court of Louisiana established the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board to administer the lawyer discipline and disability system. The agency was the first attorney disciplinary system in the nation to incorporate the American Bar Association’s Model Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement, the hallmark of which is the use of non-lawyers in the disciplinary process.
The primary purpose of the discipline and disability system is to protect the public. Toward that end, it is the responsibility of the agency to investigate complaints of lawyer ethical misconduct and make recommendations to the Court when discipline is warranted. The agency also makes recommendations to the Court concerning other lawyer regulatory matters. The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board consists of a statewide board, hearing committees, disciplinary counsel and administrative staff. All board and hearing committee members volunteer their time to the system.
The Disciplinary Board (to Top ↑)
The Disciplinary Board is composed of fourteen members who are appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. One member is nominated by the Louisiana State Bar Association each year and must have prior experience as a volunteer in the lawyer discipline system. Of the fourteen members, four are members of the general public. The term of office for all Board members is three years, and no Board member may serve more than two consecutive terms. The Board itself is divided into two committees: a nine-member adjudicative committee and a five-member administrative committee. Three of the public members serve on the adjudicative committee and the remaining public member sits on the administrative committee. Each committee has separate duties and powers, although both committees have joint responsibility for some Board functions.
The adjudicative committee functions as an appellate court in the disciplinary system. Specifically, when an objection is filed to the report of a hearing committee in a formal charge or reinstatement/readmission matter, the Board’s adjudicative committee reviews the hearing committee’s findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations, and prepares its own findings and recommendations, which are filed with the Louisiana Supreme Court. In addition, the adjudicative committee has the power to administer reprimands, issue admonishments, impose probation, and rule on procedural matters.
The administrative committee is charged with appointing hearing committee members and the overall management of the system, including financial, facilities, and human resources. The members of the administrative committee do not participate in or vote on matters involving appellate review functions of the adjudicative committee. The administrative committee researches and tracks trends in lawyer discipline and proposes amendments to Louisiana Supreme Court Rule XIX, the governing rule for the lawyer discipline system in Louisiana. The administrative committee is also responsible for public outreach and the implementation of numerous lawyer educational programs.
Administrative staff is appointed by the Board to administer its day-to-day operations. The staff includes the Board Administrator, Deputy Administrator, docket clerks (for filing and other clerk of court functions), board and hearing committee counsel, information technology and other support personnel. The Board’s office is located at 2800 Veterans Boulevard, Suite 310, Metairie, Louisiana.
Hearing committees act as the trial courts of the lawyer discipline system. The Board has authorized as many as fifty hearing committees across the state. Each hearing committee consists of two lawyer members and one public member. One of the lawyer members is appointed as chair of the committee. Hearing committee members serve three-year terms and may not serve more than two consecutive terms. The hearing committees are divided into two tiers, each with assigned powers and duties. Primarily, Tier I hearing committees conduct hearings on formal charges of misconduct. Following the hearings, the committees submit to the Board written findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations for proposed discipline. Tier I committees also conduct hearings on petitions for reinstatement or readmission, and petitions for transfer to and from disability inactive status. Tier II hearing committees review dismissals of complaints by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel upon a request for review by the complaining party. The chair or lawyer member of each Tier II hearing committee reviews private admonitions proposed by disciplinary counsel and accepted by a lawyer-respondent, and determines whether probable cause exists to proceed, when disciplinary counsel seeks permission to file formal charges.
Hearing committee members are appointed by the Board’s administrative committee. Nominees for the position of hearing committee member must complete an application and agree to a background check. Also, the nominees must meet the following preliminary qualifications in order to be appointed by the Board:
- A nominee must possess good moral character and fitness.
- A lawyer nominee must hold a Louisiana law license that is in good standing with the Louisiana Supreme Court.
- A lawyer nominee must have been licensed to practice law for five years at the time of appointment.
- A lawyer nominee cannot be a partner, a shareholder, or an associate of a law firm that already has two partners, shareholders, or associates currently serving as hearing committee members.
- A nominee cannot serve on a bar association grievance committee at the time of appointment.
- A nominee cannot hold elected or appointed political office for a term that exceeds thirty days at the time of appointment.
Office of Disciplinary Counsel (to Top ↑)
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) is charged with all prosecutorial functions. ODC is responsible for screening all complaints, investigating complaints and petitions for reinstatement and readmission, and making decisions as to their disposition. In this regard, ODC may dismiss a complaint or recommend probation, private admonition, a stay in proceedings, the filing of formal charges (which must first be approved by the chair of a hearing committee), or petitions for transfer to and from disability inactive status. Other duties include maintaining permanent records of discipline and disability proceedings; notifying complainants, respondents, other jurisdictions and courts, when appropriate, of the outcome of discipline and disability matters; and, compiling statistics to aid in the administration of the system.
Administrative staff, appointed by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, is responsible for handling all prosecutorial functions of the agency. In addition to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, ODC staff includes deputy disciplinary counsel, investigators and legal assistants. ODC staff is located at 4000 S. Sherwood Forest Boulevard, Suite 607, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All complaints regarding attorneys are received and processed at this location.