The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary System (to Top ↑)
The Louisiana Supreme Court continues to address public concerns regarding attorney misconduct. In 1990, the Court established the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, which became the first attorney disciplinary system in the nation to incorporate the American Bar Association’s Model Rules for Disciplinary Enforcement, the hallmark of which is the use of non-lawyers in the disciplinary process.
The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board is tasked with the responsibility of investigating all allegations of lawyer misconduct and making recommendations to the Court when discipline is warranted. The agency consists of a statewide board, hearing committees, disciplinary counsel, and administrative staff appointed by the board and disciplinary counsel.
The Disciplinary Board (to Top ↑)
The Disciplinary Board is composed of 14 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 lawyer discipline experience. Of the 14 members, four are members of the general public with diverse backgrounds. Women comprise 35 percent of the Board and minorities comprise one-fourth. The term of office for all Board members is three years, and no Board member may serve more than two consecutive terms. All members volunteer their time and services. 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, the committee reviews findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations of the hearing committees with respect to formal charges, petitions for transfer to and from disability inactive status, and petitions for reinstatement, and prepares its own findings and recommendations for proposed discipline, 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 committees and with 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 also researches various trends in lawyer discipline and makes initial proposals for Louisiana Supreme Court Rule XIX amendments to the remainder of the Board for consideration. Such issues include prescription for ethical complaints and changes to the probation system. In addition, the public outreach program currently under way around the state was implemented by the administrative committee.
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), staff attorneys, and support personnel, and is located at 2800 Veterans Boulevard, Suite 310, Metairie, Louisiana. All activities of the Board also take place at this location.
Currently, there are 50 hearing committees around the state, although this number changes periodically. 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. Like Board members, hearing committee members volunteer their time and services. The hearing committees are divided into two tiers, each with assigned powers and duties. Primarily, the hearing committees in Tier I conduct hearings into formal charges of misconduct, petitions for reinstatement or readmission, and petitions for transfer to and from disability inactive status. Following the hearings, the committees submit to the Board written findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendations for proposed discipline. The hearing committees in Tier II review dismissals of complaints by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel upon a request for review by the complaining party. The chair of each hearing committee has additional duties, such as conducting pre-hearing conferences, ruling on pre-hearing motions, and reviewing private admonitions proposed by disciplinary counsel and accepted by a lawyer-respondent.
Hearing committee members are appointed by the Disciplinary 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 to be a hearing committee member.
- 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 (5) 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 (2) partners, shareholders, or associates that are 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 to lasting longer than thirty (30) days at the time of appointment.
Office of Disciplinary Counsel (to Top ↑)
The next component of the disciplinary system is the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), which 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 petition for transfer to and from disability inactive status. Other duties include the maintenance of permanent records of discipline and disability matters and the compiling of 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 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.