By Gary Blankenship
At what point should information about pending disciplinary cases appear on member pages of the Bar’s website?
That question will be explored by a special subcommittee.
The Communications Committee decided to create the subcommittee after a lively debate on the issue October 3, the day before the Bar Board of Governors regular meeting. Committee Chair Michelle Suskauer reported on the action during the board meeting. The board recently approved the committee’s recommendationto immediately post disciplinary recommendation to immediately post information when the Supreme Court issues an order in a discipline case. That addressed concerns that the Bar website continued to show a lawyer as a member in good standing during the 30-day period between court action and a suspended or disbarred attorney closing down his or her practice.
But the board hesitated on a related committee recommendation, which was endorsed by the Citizens Forum, that the Bar also post information and a link when a referee has reached a finding of guilt and recommends discipline in a grievance case or the Bar and responding attorney reach a consent agreement.
Suskauer said the committee looked at that issue, adding, “What we have actually is a suggestion to establish a subcommittee and write down what our policy is going forward. . . . There is a lot of really strong feeling on protecting the public and balancing our members’ interest.”
During their deliberations, some committee members expressed concerns that posting information could damage the practices of lawyers who are later acquitted or found guilty of less serious infractions by the court. But others argued not posting information would continue to have the Bar’s website showing a member as being in good standing even after a referee had recommended sanctions for serious disciplinary violations.
Committee members also noted that any policy must acknowledge that most information about a pending disciplinary matter becomes public once a disciplinary committee finds probable cause or find no probable cause. There are limited exceptions which allow the Bar to acknowledge the existence of an investigation prior to a grivance committee finding.
On another issue, Suskauer said the committee hopes to report at the board’s December meeting on hiring a full-time staffer to handle social media issues for the Bar.