Monday, June 15, 2009
The Georgia Supreme Court dismissed a reciprocal discipline action based on a finding in federal district court that the attorney had engaged in unauthorized practice. The district court found the lawyer in contempt and imposed a fine and fee forfeiture. The Georgia court found that:
Reading our reciprocal discipline rules as a whole...it is clear that the deference given to disciplinary proceedings of "another jurisdiction" is predicated on the existence of comprehensive disciplinary procedures adopted by a licensing jurisdiction, that is, a jurisdiction with authority similar to that granted to this Court to assess a lawyer's perofessional fitness to hold a license to practice law and resolve matters pertaining to a lawyer's professional ethics and responsibility.
Because the federal district court "has no authority to confer or revoke [the attorney's] license to practice law," it is not "another jurisdiction" for reciprocal discipline purposes. The misconduct found by the federal district court may be found in an original proceeding but not under the abbreviated reciprocal procedures.
A dissent (joined by two other justices) would reject the bright-line rule of the majority and impose reciprocal discipline where the federal court provides due process guarentees before imposing discipline. The dissent also finds the disposition inconsistent with prior Georgia case law.
This case should get a lot of attention from disciplinary counsel. If this reasoning catches on, it will have a significant impact on federal-state bar comity. (Mike Frisch)