WHAT ARE THE VARIOUS STAGES OF A PENNSYLVANIA ATTORNEY ETHICS MATTER FAQs

What is the procedure by which an ethics complaint reaches a final resolution?

1. Investigation Stage

Disciplinary proceedings begin at the investigation stage, whether commenced by a complaint or otherwise. Complaints submitted to the Board or Disciplinary Counsel are confidential. Indeed, a copy of the complaint is not provided to the respondent-attorney until formal charges are filed and the complainant is designated as a witness at the prehearing conference.

 

2. Recommendations by Disciplinary Counsel

Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the Disciplinary Counsel may issue the recommendations concerning dismissal, conditional or unconditional informal admonition, private reprimand, public reprimand or prosecution of formal charges before a hearing committee or special master. Pa.R.D.E. 208(a)(2).

 

3. Review by Hearing Committee Member

Except where Disciplinary Counsel dismisses the complaint as frivolous, as falling outside the jurisdiction of the Board, or on the basis of prosecutorial discretion, the Counsel’s recommendation is reviewed by a member of a hearing committee in the appropriate disciplinary district. On that basis, it can either be approved or modified. Id.

 

4. Final Prehearing Disposition

After that process is complete, “[t]he Disciplinary Counsel may then appeal the recommended disposition to a reviewing panel composed of three Board members which shall order that the matter be concluded by dismissal, conditional or unconditional informal admonition, conditional or unconditional private reprimand, or conditional or unconditional public reprimand, or direct that a formal proceeding be instituted before a hearing committee or special master in the district.”

For more detail on the pre-hearing process, please click here.

5. Formal Hearing

Proceedings are instituted by filing a petition with the Board setting forth the charges of misconduct. Within 20 days of service of that petition, the attorney is required to serve an answer. Following service of the answer, the matter is assigned to a hearing committee or a special master. Id.

 

6. Action by the Disciplinary Board

The Board will then either affirm or modify in writing the recommendation from the hearing committee or special master. Within 60 days after adjudication at a meeting of the Board, the Board will take any of the following actions:

  1. Dismissal. In the event that the Board determines that a proceeding should be dismissed, it shall so notify the respondent-attorney.
  2. Informal admonition, private reprimand or public reprimand. In the event that the Board determines that the proceeding should be concluded by informal admonition, private reprimand or public reprimand, the Board shall arrange to have the respondent-attorney appear before Disciplinary Counsel for the purpose of receiving informal admonition or before a designated panel of three members selected by the Board Chair pursuant to Pa.R.D.E. 205(c)(9), for the purpose of receiving private reprimand or public reprimand.
  3. Other discipline. In the event that the Board shall determine that the matter should be concluded by probation, censure, suspension, disbarment, or by informal admonition, private reprimand, or public reprimand in cases where the respondent-attorney is unwilling to have the matter concluded by informal admonition, private reprimand, or public reprimand, the Board shall file its findings and recommendations, together with the briefs, if any, before the Board and the entire record, with the Supreme Court. A respondent-attorney who is unwilling to have the matter concluded by an informal admonition, private reprimand, or public reprimand must file within thirty (30) days after notice of the determination of the Board, a notice of appeal. Review by the Supreme Court shall be de novo and the Court may impose a sanction greater or less than that recommended by the Board.

Pa.R.D.E. 208(d)(2).

 

7. Review by the Supreme Court

If the Board recommends that the attorney be disbarred, the respondent-attorney may, within twenty days of service of the Board’s recommendation, submit to the Supreme Court a request to present oral argument.

In the event the Board recommends a sanction other disbarment, and the Court, after consideration of that recommendation, opines that a rule to show cause should be served upon respondent-attorney as why an order of disbarment not be entered, the same shall be issued. The respondent-attorney and ODC will have twenty days after service to submit a written response to the Supreme Court, and ten days after that response to submit a reply. The respondent-attorney can also request oral argument.

Pa.R.D.E. 208(d)(2) & (3).

PUBLICATIONS & PRESENTATIONS

Gary D. Nissenbaum, Esq.

  • Presented Seminar, Six Aspects of Attorney Ethics Enforcement in NJ, NY & PA That You May Not Have Heard About Before, Lawline, Summer 2024 (Anticipated Presentation Date)
  • Panelist, New Jersey Trust and Business Accounting, New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, February 2021
  • Presented Seminar, How to Avoid Serious Mistakes When Facing an Ethics Grievance or Random Trust Account Audit, Essex County Bar Association, December 2020
  • Presented Seminar, “Good Grievance, Charlie Brown!” Latest Developments in NJ Ethics Law and Procedure, New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education, July 2020
  • Presented Seminar, How to Avoid Serious Mistakes When Facing an Ethics Grievance, Wilshire Grand Hotel, December 2019
  • Presented Seminar, Attorney Ethics Grievances: 20 Insights from the Trenches, Wilshire Grand Hotel, December 2016
  • Presented Seminar, Attorney Ethics Grievance Process, Union County Bar Association, 2011

Anthony C. Gunst, Esq.

  • Presented Seminar, Six Aspects of Attorney Ethics Enforcement in NJ, NY & PA That You May Not Have Heard About Before, Lawline, Summer 2024 (Anticipated Presentation Date)
  • Presented Seminar, How to Avoid Serious Mistakes When Facing an Attorney Ethics Matter, New Jersey Association of Legal Administrators, April 2023

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Looking for advice?

We're here to help.

Contact the Nissenbaum Law Group to schedule an appointment at 908-686-8000 or feel free to use the following form to e-mail us. Please include as much information as you can to ensure that we are able to handle your request as quickly as possible.

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