Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 51

SPEAKING OF ETHICS
A Primer on Lawyer
Discipline in the District
By Hope C. Todd
F
or the average person, or
even the average lawyer,
understanding the process
and circumstances under
which a lawyer may be held
accountable for professional misconduct
is somewhat of a mystery.
Thankfully, shedding light on this
matter does not require divine
revelation.
This column begins with an explanation of the
jurisdiction, authority, and independence of
the entities charged with the regulation of the
legal profession in the District of Columbia. It
then discusses the grounds for attorney discipline,
the process for filing a disciplinary complaint,
and what happens after a complaint
is filed, including at what point a disciplinary
matter becomes public. It concludes with a
brief summary of the disciplinary process once
formal charges are filed.
ENTITIES CHARGED WITH REGULATING
THE LEGAL PROFESSION IN D.C.
Exercising its inherent powers over members
of the legal profession, the District of Columbia
Court of Appeals created the District of
Columbia Bar (Bar or D.C. Bar) in 1972 as an
official arm of the court and deemed all
persons admitted to the practice of law in the
District to be members of the Bar and subject
to the court's Rules Governing the Bar.1
Rules I through IX set forth the Bar's purposes,
organization, membership, and governance,
including an elected Board of Governors to
manage and direct its affairs. Rule X states that
the District of Columbia Rules of Professional
Conduct provide the ethical standards governing
the practice of law in the District of
Columbia; Rule XI sets out the jurisdiction,
authority, and responsibilities of the Office
of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC or Disciplinary
Counsel) and the Board on Professional
Responsibility (BPR).2
In ordinary terms, Disciplinary Counsel is
charged with the investigation and prosecution
of D.C. Bar members for ethical misconduct.3
The BPR is responsible for the adjudication of
disciplinary cases and the administration of
the attorney discipline system.4
By design, the
role of the D.C. Bar and its officers, Board of
Governors, and employees in the affairs of the
disciplinary system is extremely limited. The
Bar, for example, has no authority to investigate,
prosecute, or discipline its members; to participate
in the appointment of Disciplinary
Counsel; or to speak on behalf of ODC, the
BPR, or the Court of Appeals.
INDEPENDENCE OF THE
DISCIPLINARY SYSTEM
In 1993 the Bar established the Disciplinary
System Review Committee (DSR Committee) in
light of the American Bar Association's seminal
McKay Commission Report and its recommendations
for improvements to lawyer discipline
in the United States. The DSR Committee
report set out each McKay Commission recommendation,
and it addressed whether the D.C.
Bar conformed to the recommendation and
whether, if it did not, changes should be made.
McKay Commission Recommendation 5 underscored
the importance of the independence of
bar disciplinary systems and provided that:
All jurisdictions should structure their
lawyer disciplinary systems so that disciplinary
officials are appointed by the
highest court of the jurisdiction or by other
disciplinary officials who are appointed by
the Court. Disciplinary officials should
possess sufficient independent authority
to conduct the lawyer discipline function
impartially:
(1) Elected bar officials, their appointees
and employees should provide only
administrative and other services for
the disciplinary system that support
the operation of the system without
impairing the independence of disciplinary
officials.
(2) Elected bar officials, their appointees
and employees should have no investigative,
prosecutorial, or adjudicative
functions in the disciplinary process.5
The DSR Committee concluded that the D.C.
disciplinary system conformed to Recommenda -
tion 5, with one minor exception.6
Indeed, as
recommended, the BPR is appointed by the
Court of Appeals, Disciplinary Counsel is hired
by the BPR, and no elected or administrative
Bar officials have any substantive role in the
disciplinary system, which is de facto and de
jure independent of the D.C. Bar.
Among other things, the Bar is responsible for
fostering and assisting lawyers in maintaining
high ideals of integrity, learning, competence in
public service, and high standards of conduct.7
The role of the disciplinary system is to protect
the public, the courts, and the legal profession
from lawyers who fail to meet those standards.
GROUNDS FOR DISCIPLINE
Rule XI and the Board on Professional
Responsibility Rules of Procedures (BPR Rules)
govern how disciplinary complaints are initiated,
investigated, and adjudicated by the disciplinary
system.8
ODC has the authority to
initiate an investigation on the basis of a complaint
or on the basis of any alleged ground for
discipline coming to the attention of Disciplinary
Counsel or the BPR from any source whatsoever.9
Thus,
ODC need not wait for a formal
complaint to be filed before commencing an
JULY/AUGUST 2021
* WASHINGTON LAWYER 51

Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Election Coverage
Practice Management
Toward Well-Being
A Conversation with Chad Sarchio feature
Ready for Reentry feature
LSC's Ron Flagg feature
Leadership Academy feature
DC Bar Annual Report
DC Bar Budget
Taking the Stand
On Further Review
The Learning Curve
ABA Delegate's Corner
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Disciplinary Summaries
Speaking of Ethics
The Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 1
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 2
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 3
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Election Coverage
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Toward Well-Being
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - A Conversation with Chad Sarchio feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 11
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 12
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 13
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Ready for Reentry feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 15
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 16
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 17
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - LSC's Ron Flagg feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 19
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 20
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 21
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Leadership Academy feature
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 23
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 24
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - DC Bar Annual Report
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 26
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 27
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 28
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 29
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 30
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 31
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 32
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 33
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 34
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 35
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 36
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - DC Bar Budget
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 39
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - The Learning Curve
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - ABA Delegate's Corner
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 43
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 45
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 47
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 50
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 52
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 53
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - 55
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - July/August 2021 - Cover4
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