Those who believe they have been a witness to attorney misconduct — clients, members of the public, members of the legal community, and judges — have the right to file a grievance against a Texas attorney. The grievance form is available on the State Bar website (in Spanish and English), in each of CDC’s regional offices, through the State Bar’s Client Attorney Assistance Program (CAAP), and at courthouses, law libraries, legal aid organizations and local bar associations across the State.
The filing of a written grievance with any one of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s regional offices initiates the disciplinary process. Lawyers are subject to discipline only if they have violated the ethics rules (Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct). Upon receipt of the grievance, the CDC determines whether the grievance, on its face, alleges professional misconduct. This determination is referred to as classification of the grievance and is made within 30 days of the filing of the grievance.
If the grievance does not allege professional misconduct, it is classified as an Inquiry and dismissed. If the grievance alleges professional misconduct, it is classified as a Complaint and sent to the respondent lawyer for a response.
Why Are Grievances Dismissed?
- Grievances are dismissed for various reasons, including the following:
- The grievance concerns the outcome of a case but does not specify a violation of an ethics rule.
- The grievance does not involve a lawyer’s conduct in his or her professional capacity.
- The grievance is filed too late.
- The grievance is duplicative or identical to a previous filing.
- The grievance concerns a lawyer who has been disbarred, has resigned, or is deceased.
- The grievance concerns a person who is not licensed as an attorney (handled by the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee).
- The grievance is filed against a sitting judge (handled by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct).
The person who filed the grievance has the right to appeal the CDC’s classification decision to dismiss the grievance as an Inquiry to the Board of Disciplinary Appeals (BODA). BODA is an independent 12-attorney tribunal, appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas. When BODA reverses a classification decision, the grievance is sent back to the CDC and is processed as a Complaint.
Just Cause Determination
Once the grievance is classified as a Complaint, it is sent to the respondent lawyer who has 30 days from receipt to respond. Within 60 days of the response deadline, the CDC, through its investigation, must determine whether there is Just Cause to believe that professional misconduct occurred. This investigation may include the following:
- Requesting additional information from the complainant
- Obtaining information from corroborative witnesses
- Hourly records or billing statements
- Correspondence to and from client
- Message slips, telephone logs, or records of long-distance telephone calls
- Court records, such as pleadings, motions, orders and docket sheets
- Copies of settlement checks and/or disbursement statements
- IOLTA or trust account records, such as monthly bank statements, deposit slips, deposit items and disbursement items
- State Bar Membership Department records including records of current or past administrative suspensions
- Client file
- Witness interviews and obtaining sworn statements
If the Chief Disciplinary Counsel determines that there is no Just Cause to proceed on the Complaint, the case is presented to a Summary Disposition Panel, which is a panel of local grievance committee members composed of two-thirds lawyers and one-third public members. The Summary Disposition Panel is an independent decision maker and has the discretion to either accept or reject the CDC’s determination.
All information and results of the CDC’s investigation is presented to the panel at a docket hearing without the presence of either the complainant or respondent. If the panel accepts the CDC’s determination, the Complaint will be dismissed. If the panel rejects the CDC’s determination, the panel votes to proceed on the Complaint.
Trial of the Complaint
If the CDC finds Just Cause or the Summary Disposition Panel votes to proceed on the Complaint, the respondent lawyer is given written notice of the allegations and rule violations. The respondent has 20 days to notify the CDC whether he or she chooses to have the case heard before an evidentiary panel of the grievance committee or by a district court, with or without a jury. This choice is referred to as the respondent’s election. A respondent who fails to elect will have the case tried before an evidentiary panel of the grievance committee.
Evidentiary panel hearings are confidential and allow for a private reprimand, the least sanction available, to be imposed. District court proceedings are public and the least sanction available is a public reprimand. In both types of proceedings, the parties are the Commission for Lawyer Discipline represented by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, and the respondent lawyer. It is the Commission’s burden to prove the allegations of professional misconduct by a preponderance of the evidence.
If no professional misconduct is found, the case is dismissed. If professional misconduct is found, a separate hearing may be held to determine the appropriate discipline. In evidentiary panel proceedings, the panel may also find that the respondent suffers from a disability and forwards its finding to the Board of Disciplinary Appeals.