Tuesday, October 7, 2014

This Explains What's Wrong With The D.C. Bar Discipline System

On the District of Columbia Bar web page, there is a link to a statement of mission and purpose of the Office of Bar Counsel

the Office of Bar Counsel has a dual function: to protect the public and the courts from unethical conduct by members of the D.C. Bar and to protect members of the D.C. Bar from unfounded complaints.

On all letters written on Bar Counsel stationary this language appears at the bottom

Serving the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and its Board on Professional Responsibility

I'm reasonably confident that no such mission statement was on the web page or anywhere else during my tenure at Bar Counsel from 1984 (which of course was well pre-web) to 2001.

Perhaps what is wrong with Bar Counsel at present is its failure to realize that its only job is to get rid of bad lawyers; protecting lawyers plays absolutely no role in that function.

While Bar Counsel must honor the confidentiality of information relating to non-public matters, it has no duty in protecting lawyers from "unfounded complaints." Rather, the public expression of that as a stated mission ought to confirm the public's worst fears about self-regulation.

And if the current occupants of the Bar Counsel think that their job is to "serve the Board on Professional Responsibility," they need to be replaced with people who understand that their obligations are to the public and not to the parochial, self-interested Bar which the BPR personifies.

If someone ever does a serious study of how long it takes to discipline D.C. lawyers, the result will reveal the extent to which protecting the public from unfit members of the bar remains the real priority. I promise you it won't be a pretty picture.

In Wisconsin, the court recently called in outside consultants to look at their disciplinary process. The reported results raise serious issues about the Wisconsin system. The time is long overdue for a similar critical look at the defects in the present D.C. system.

And the title to this post is an overstatement. There are plenty of other reasons that D.C. bar discipline is an empty promise at best and a cruel joke at worst. (Mike Frisch)


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