There is a precise script that is followed whenever an official complaint is filed against an attorney in Louisiana.
According to Charles Plattsmier, Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), the timeframe for their group’s work is a “window of six months.
The LADB’s website spells out the procedure that is to be followed.
Filing a Complaint
All complaints regarding attorneys must be received in writing. Complaints can be filed by any person, not just a client. Complaints can be filed in one of two ways:
(1) By submitting a completed complaint form to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
You can obtain a complaint form in person at the offices of the Disciplinary Board or Disciplinary Counsel, or you can call (800) 326-8022 or (504) 834-1488 to request that one be mailed to you.
The complaint form can also be downloaded here. This form requires the free Adobe Acrobat Reader which can be downloaded here.
Once you obtain a complaint form, please complete it in full.
(2) By writing a letter to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel including your name, address and telephone number. Describe what the lawyer did or failed to do and include all important information, including attorney name, address, phone numbers and dates of events. If letters, agreements or other documents are available, submit them to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
All complaints must be sent to the following address:
OFFICE OF DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL
4000 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd., Suite 607
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70816
The phone number for the office is (225) 293-3900
Review and Investigation
Each complaint is reviewed to ensure that it falls within the jurisdiction of the agency. If it does, and if no further details are needed from the complaining party at the time, the ODC will send a copy of the complaint to the lawyer, who is asked to submit a written response to the complaint.
The complaining party usually receives a copy of the lawyer’s response and is asked to submit further comments. Depending on the nature of the complaint and the complexity of the facts, the process of exchanging correspondence could be repeated several times. The ODC may also need to interview the parties or other witnesses directly and to obtain further supporting documents. The aim of the investigation is to gather all facts necessary to determine whether there is clear evidence of misconduct on the part of the lawyer.
Evaluation and Disposition
When the ODC obtains all necessary facts, an evaluation is made as to whether there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of a Rule violation. The investigation will result in one of the following dispositions:
* Dismissal of the complaint, meaning there is inadequate evidence to support a clear finding of misconduct.
* Imposition of a private admonition by ODC, the least severe form of discipline. Although confidential, the admonition remains on the lawyer’s record and can be considered should the lawyer violate the Rules again.
* Commencement of formal disciplinary proceedings, required whenever discipline more serious than an admonition is believed necessary.
The preceding events cover the six months time period noted earlier. If a formal disciplinary hearing hearing is warranted, another 9-12 months of hearings, testimony and discovery can be expected. Here is that procedure:
A hearing on a complaint is held only if a formal disciplinary proceeding is begun. When a formal disciplinary hearing takes place, a three-member hearing committee (two lawyer members and a public member) appointed by the Disciplinary Board (but not consisting of Board members) convenes to take evidence.
The procedure is similar to a court trial. The complaining party may be called as a witness. Testimony is given under oath and documentary exhibits are submitted. A full record is kept of the proceedings, which are open to the public.
Disciplinary Board Review
Upon completion of a formal disciplinary hearing, a written report is prepared by the hearing committee for review by the Disciplinary Board. The Board is composed of fourteen members (both lawyers and members of the public) who are appointed by members of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Board members donate their time on a voluntary basis.
When a hearing committee finds unethical conduct warranting discipline, the hearing committee’s report and recommendation are forwarded to and considered by the Board. The hearing committee cannot itself impose discipline, although the Board can. When a hearing committee has filed a report recommending public discipline, oral argument is routinely scheduled before the Board. The lawyer may appear in person and may be represented by counsel. No witnesses are permitted at this oral argument and no testimony is taken. If the Board determines that a suspension, or a disbarment should be imposed, its written recommendation must be reviewed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Board forwards a copy of the recommendation to the complaining party and to the lawyer.
The Board can impose a public reprimand upon the attorney, in which event the case will end there. Like an admonition, a reprimand remains on the attorney’s record and may be taken into account should a future Rule violation occur.
A review by the Louisiana Supreme Court can take an additional six weeks.
Review by Louisiana Supreme Court
Suspension or disbarment can be ordered only by the Louisiana Supreme Court. After receiving the Board’s recommendation, the Supreme Court hears oral argument on the matter. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel represents the public interest before the Court, which issues the final order disciplining the attorney or determining that no discipline is required.
Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) will be following the Traylor ethics case to its conclusion.