“There may be a consent agreement between the Bar and the respondent attorney (that’s how we refer to the attorney facing the charge) which would generally include some level of sanction.,” DeBruhl said. “If the case moves forward it is heard by a three member disciplinary panel which consists of the presiding disciplinary judge, a volunteer attorney and a volunteer member of the public. The panel is another function of the court.
Ultimately, the bar is responsible for investigation and prosecution. The court determines whether an attorney has violated the rules of professional conduct and should be sanctioned.”
There are three levels of formal sanction:
· Disbarment – The attorney loses the right to practice law. Technically, it is possible for an attorney to ask for reinstatement after five years although it rarely happens.
· Suspension – This can range from 30 days to four years. Suspensions of six months or less allow for the attorney to get reinstatement with just an application. Six months and a day or greater requires the attorney to apply for reinstatement and show rehabilitation.
· Reprimand – The attorney is allowed to continue practicing law however there is a formal notation on their public record which the public can access and read when they view the attorney profile on our website.
DeBruhl noted there are also informal sanctions. “For example, an attorney may have faced some substance abuse or lack practice management skills. As a result, in some cases a diversion program is possible which allows the attorney to meet certain standards to avoid sanctions.”
When a case is dismissed, by court rule it is a public record for six months. When there is a formal proceeding or sanction, it is a permanent record that is available to the public. The complainant and the respondent attorney are both notified of the result. In addition, news releases are sent to various media and posted on the Arizona Bar’s website.
The average time for formal investigations was 161 days in 2016 for those that went beyond intake. However, DeBruhl noted that there is no such thing as an average case. “Each case as its own complexities which determine the length of the investigation. In some cases, the facts come together very quickly, in other cases the issues under investigation take a long time to bring into focus,” he concluded.