f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

March 13, 2005

blogshine sunday 2005

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 2:47 pm

 


shaded lawyers need sunshine 




March 13 to 19 has been dubbed Sunshine Week, a national event focused on the 

importance of open government and freedom of information laws.   Today, we’re
taking part in the related activities of Blogshine Sunday, by reminding our readers that,

in most states, the lawyer discipline system falls significantly short of the basic goals

of an open process with easy access to information. [via Bob Ambrogi’s Media Law]

 

sunshineWeek Problems exist in three important areas:


tiny check  Allowing the public to readily locate information on the discipline

records of individual attorneys. Although there has been improvement

in recent years (with varying amounts of online information now available

from many states) a significant number of states still fail to offer discipline

records in a manner easily accessible to the public, and there is much more

that needs to be done.   (see our post,)

 

tiny check  Allowing the public to attend disciplinary hearings. According to

the legal reform group HALT:  “Florida, for example, allows only the grievant

and the defendant lawyer into the hearing room. New York, Missouri and

Nevada hold secret hearings – prohibiting even the person who filed the complaint

from observing the proceedings.”  (from the summary of HALT’s 2002 Lawyer

Discipline Report Card)

 

tiny check  The continued use of “gag rules” prohibitng a consumer who files a

grievance from speaking about it to anyone, threatening fines and

imprisonment for contempt of court. 

I live in New York State, which has more lawyers than any other state.  The NYS system fails

the most fundamental principles of open government:




  • The only source of lawyer disciplinary records are massive Annual Reports,

    posted by the NYS Bar Association, that are far from user-friendly.



  • Not even the complainant can attend disciplinary hearings, much less the public.




  • Although there is no formal “gag rule” on complainants, they are still informally

    advised not to make the complaint public.  When I filed a grievance a few years

    ago, I received a letter from bar counsel — who clearly knew I was a lawyer —

    saying I should not reveal the existence of the investigation, citing a rule that

    required confidentiality.  When I Iooked up the rule, I discovered that it only

    applied to the grievance committee staff.   [HALT NY Report Card]

sunshineWeekN  Here’s what the HALT staff told the NYS Second Judicial Department in Nov.

2004, when it was considering changes in its disciplinary rules:



“[I]n an era that places a premium on principles of sunshine and transparency,

the Second Department’s disciplinary system must come out into the open.

Current New York law bars members of the public from attending disciplinary

hearings. See NY CLS Sup. Ct

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