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

March 8, 2006

New Lawyer Discipline Report Cards from HALT

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 8:28 pm

The legal reform group HALT has issued its 2006 Lawyer Discipline Report Card,

following up on its original 2002 Report Card. (click for a map linked to state-by-

state results; click for compared rankings)


You can go directly to the Report Card for any particular state by replacing

the “XX” in the following URL with the state’s two-letter abbreviation:






In its Introduction, HALT explains that the group “produced the 2006 Lawyer

Discipline Report Card to assess whether states have taken any meaningful

action to improve the lawyer discipline system since our last Report Card in


“Unfortunately, few states showed any improvement, and many states’

systems actually saw their grades decline!


“Consumers today are still not adequately protected by state systems

that investigate only a fraction of cases, almost never impose sanctions,

attempt to intimidate and silence victims, hide misconduct behind a veil

of secrecy, and often take years to process cases,” stated HALT Associ-

ate Counsel Suzanne Blonder. “After years of ignored calls for reform by

our organization, the American Bar Association and ethics scholars around

the country, the situation is not getting any better.”

Summarizing “What’s New Since 2002,” the report notes that there has been little

overall improvement.  Three noteworthy exceptions, however, did shake up the grades.

Pennsylvania‘s disciplinary body, which HALT rated as worst in the nation four years

ago, ascended to fifth in the nation in 2006, and was deemed Most Improved. “While

the system is far from perfect, Pennsylvania’s dedication to reform should be a model

to the rest of the nation,” stated HALT Associate Counsel Suzanne M. Blonder.

plungeGraphG  Massachusetts and California ‘s discipline systems

also changed significantly, but they both fell dramatically in

the rankings.

Another important improvement is the increased use and functionality of grievance

system websites:

“While disciplinary bodies are not publicized in court-houses and local media

as much as they were four years ago, their online resources have dramatically

improved since 2002. Today, most disciplinary Web sites offer downloadable

complaint forms, information about upcoming hearings and clear explanations

about the disciplinary process – features that most states lacked four years ago.”


Connecticut ranked #1 and won as the Best Disciplinary Agency in the Nation Overall.

“Although Connecticut does not shine in any one category, the state, as a whole, offers

the most effective system of attorney discipline in the nation. The Statewide Bar Counsel’s

office is investigating more complaints and disciplining more attorneys than most states,

offering more complete information about its disciplinary process than the average jurisdiction,

and processing complaints faster than the vast majority of disciplinary bodies.”



fail gray s  Utah had the lowest ranking, coming in 51st with the only F (after a showing

of 19th in 2002).   Next-to-last was North Carolina, with the only D. 


Here are some other rankings:

Rounding out the Top Ten:


#2 Colorado: “Colorado’s ranking jumped from 13th to 2nd in the nation. The

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel now processes complaints more promptly

and the system more widely publicizes case outcomes than it did four years ago.”


of Columbia, Georgia, Mississippi.  (the top 3 had a grade of B-; the remainder of

the top 10 received C+) 




Ben Cowgill‘s home state, Kentucky, came in 13th.  It’s best grade [C] was for

public participation; its worse [F] was for promptness.


Florida – 14th


Massachusetts fell from 1st to 17th.  “Four years ago, HALT ranked Massa-

chusetts’ attorney discipline system as best in the nation. Since then, Massa-

chusetts’ system has stopped widely publicizing its system and has been

hamstrung by shameful delays in processing cases.”

The worst discipline systems

From 40th to 44th: Oklahoma, Delaware, Iowa, Alaska, South Carolina,




California  At 45th, California’s ranking dropped dramatically — from 12th

in the nation four years ago. “The state’s 2002 grade of C also fell, primarily

because California now only investigates a third of the complaints received.

In addition, the Bar’s automated telephone system has become more confusing,

preventing consumers from obtaining prompt answers to specific questions from

a staff member.”


From 46th through 48th: Arkansas, Alabama, Hawaii


#49: Montana   “Montana’s disciplinary system has changed less than any disci-

plinary body in the country, holding firm at an abysmal 49th in the nation overall.

The state’s system continues to withhold information and still threatens complain-

ants with criminal contempt charges if they choose to publicly disclose any infor-

mation about a disciplinary matter.”


North Carolina – got the only D in garnering its 50th spot. “North Carolina’s Grievance

Committee holds steady as the country’s second-worst attorney discipline system.

The state continues to withhold critical data about its handling of complaints against

lawyers and still fails to make its discipline system known to the public.”


Utah – got the only F, and is ranked the lowest, 51st place. “In four

years, Utah’s standing plummeted from 19th in the country to worst

attorney discipline body nationwide. The disciplinary system no longer

releases as much information to the public, utilizes procedures that

are biased in favor of lawyers, fails to mete out sufficient discipline and

lags behind most states in processing complaints”.

help with mistakes


HALT graded lawyer discipline systems in six categories: Adequacy of Discipline,

Publicity and Responsiveness, Openness, Fairness, Public Participation, and 

Promptness.  Click here for brief summaries of the results in each category. 


HALT Executive Director James Turner had this wrap-up of the Lawyer Discipline

situation in 2006:

“American legal consumers deserve a system that investigates promptly,

deliberates openly, and weeds out unethical or incompetent attorneys,”

stated Turner. “Until there is meaningful reform, the legal profession has

only itself to blame for the widespread public mistrust that mars every

attorney’s reputation.”


p.s. The f/k/a Gang has written plenty about our inadequate system of lawyer

discipline.  See, e.g., Sustained Objection, David Giacalone, Sunday Gazette

(Schenectady, NY), June 22, 2003; and this page of the ethicalEsq archives.


afterthought (March 10, 2006): There’s a thoughtful post at Ben Cowgill on

Legal Ethics titled “Turnover Contunues at Office of Bar Counsel,” March

9, 2006), on the obligation of mandatory bar associations (and, we add, all 

bar counsel) to give attorney discipline top priority — which includes budgets

adequate to hire and keep excellent staff counsel.






her leg

swinging, swinging:

the test still incomplete



    from School’s Out (1999)  



spelling test

the teacher’s

squeaky shoes


  A New Resonance 2; Frogpond XXIII:3

september morning

none of the students

has failed






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