Complaints against lawyers are handled by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission. The state Supreme Court has exclusive power to take action against a lawyer's license to practice law.
Anyone may file a grievance against a lawyer. Complaints usually are filed by the lawyer's clients, but may be submitted by other lawyers, judges, or even opposing parties in a case.
What happens when a grievance is filed against a lawyer?The staff of the Disciplinary Commission initially reviews a grievance. The grievance may be dismissed if the complaint does not raise a substantial question of misconduct by the lawyer. If this happens, the lawyer and complainant will be notified.
If a substantial question is raised, the grievance is investigated by the staff. The lawyer will be notified of the complaint and requested to respond in writing to the grievance. Following the investigation, the staff again reviews the matter and decides whether it believes misconduct occurred. If not, the grievance is dismissed and the lawyer and complainant are notified of that decision.
If, however, it is believed that lawyer misconduct occurred, the matter is referred for review by the full Disciplinary Commission. Commission members are citizens appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court. Of the nine-members, seven are lawyers and two are non-lawyers.
If the Commission believes the lawyer engaged in misconduct that would deserve discipline, a complaint is filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Court formally charging the attorney with misconduct.
Is the process private or public?The investigation stage of the grievance is confidential, but once a complaint is filed with the Clerk, the documents and hearing process is open to the public. There are procedures, however, to protect confidential client information from public disclosure.
What happens when a formal complaint is filed?After the Clerk receives the complaint from the commission, a hearing officer is appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court to hear the evidence in the case. The commission must prove its charges by a higher burden than that of a civil case by proving clear and convincing evidence. The hearing officer acts like a trial judge, except that the hearing officer makes no final decision in the case. Instead, the hearing officer makes a report on the evidence to the Supreme Court, which then will make the final decision.
Not all complaints go before a hearing officer. The commission and lawyer may agree to the facts in the case and agree on an appropriate disciplinary sanction for the misconduct. Such an agreement is submitted to the Supreme Court for approval. If the Court accepts the agreement, the sanction is imposed and the case is closed. If the Court does not accept the agreement, the case moves forward to the hearing.
Upon receiving the hearing officer report, the Indiana Supreme Court may find that the lawyer did not engage in misconduct and dismiss the case. If the Court finds there was misconduct, it will order a disciplinary sanction. The sanction depends upon the seriousness of the case in the view of the Court.
Types of sanctions include:
- A private or public reprimand;
- Suspension from practice for a set period of time;
- Suspension from practice with reinstatement only after the lawyer proves fitness to practice; and
- Permanent disbarment.
In all cases, the grievant will be notified of the outcome.
Are lawyers' disciplinary history available to the public?Information about discipline taken against a particular lawyer is available for inspection and copying. If a grievance did not result in a formal charge against the lawyer, that matter remains confidential. The Clerk of the Supreme Court can answer any query about the status of a lawyer's license and whether any formal charges are pending against the lawyer.
The Clerk's office can be reached by calling (317) 232-1930. Select voice mail menu choice "3" for the assistant clerk who handles the roll of Indiana attorneys.
This section based on information provided by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission, 30 South Meridian Street, Suite 850, Indianapolis, IN 46204-3417; (317) 232-1807.