By Gary Blankenship
More information about grievance cases nearing conclusion will be posted on the Bar’s website following approval by the Bar Board of Governors of recommendations from the Communications Committee.
The board acted at its December 16 meeting in Ft. Lauderdale. The changes will result in public information being posted on member profile pages on the Bar’s website when a consent judgment or referee’s report with a finding of guilt in a grievance case is filed with the Supreme Court.
They will also make more information from those grievances and those in which the Supreme Court has taken final action available online.
Communications Committee Chair Michelle Suskauer presented the four policies to the board. The first two, amended slightly by the board, provide that when a consent judgment or referee’s report with a finding of guilt is filed with the Supreme Court, a Bar member’s status on the Bar’s website will be changed from “Member in Good Standing” to “Member in Good Standing/Disciplinary Proceeding Pending.”
The third recommendation has the Bar posting links to the referee’s report or consent judgment, the complaint and response, and other relevant documents from the case once the referee’s report or consent judgment is filed. The final recommendation allows for links to case documents once the Supreme Court decides the case or issues its final order.
The proposals stemmed from recommendations from the Citizens Advisory Committee (formerly the Citizens Forum), Suskauer said. That committee’s members had concerns about public access to records in grievance cases and that the Bar’s website continued to list lawyers as being in good standing even if they were about to be sanctioned, sometimes for serious misconduct.
The proposals sparked a lively debate.
“We need to balance informing the public with protecting the rights of the accused,” said board member Brian Burgoon, who also chairs the Disciplinary Review Committee.
He advocated putting a disclaimer with the public documents noting that the case was not final until the Supreme Court acted. Burgoon also called for changing the “Discipline Pending” language to “Disciplinary Proceeding Pending.”
On Burgoon’s calling for disclaimers on records in non-final cases, the board referred that back to the Communications Committee for a recommendation at the board’s January 31 meeting.
Some board members also questioned why the committee recommended posting the original complaint and response when many of the original charges may have been dismissed during the disciplinary process. Committee member Mary Ann Morgan replied that recommendation resulted from a request of a respondent lawyer who wanted to make sure his side was included in information made available online by the Bar and wanted more than just the referee’s report.
Board members also questioned whether cases where the referee report is filed with a finding of guilt should have the membership status changed since it was possible the Supreme Court would dismiss the charges. However, Suskauer noted there have been no such cases in recent memory when the Supreme Court did not find some fault and impose sanctions. The board did not change that recommendation.
Board members noted that all of the documents to be posted are already public record and the board’s action is only making them more easily available.
“This is a balance, and I personally sway in favor of transparency,” said President-elect Greg Coleman.
“You have to have transparency,” added board member Michael Higer. “When we hold back information . . . somebody is going to say we withheld information.”