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Overview of The Disciplinary Process

Informal Complaint Received

When a complaint is received at the OPC, a file is opened and an informal investigation begins.

Informal Case Dispositions

The complaint is reviewed for jurisdiction, merit and timeliness. If the OPC does not have jurisdiction, if the complaint fails to state a claim, if the complaint is beyond the statute of limitations, or if the case lacks merit in that the alleged conduct is not an ethical violation, the case is summarily dismissed. In these summary dismissal cases, there usually is no need to contact the attorney for information. Both the complainant and the attorney receive a dismissal letter and a copy of the complaint is sent to the attorney.

If the allegations appear to have merit, a factual investigation is conducted. At any point during the investigation, the OPC is willing to conduct settlement negotiations with the attorney. The investigation may include the complaint being forwarded to the attorney for a response and/or contact with the complainant and/or witnesses. Once the attorney has been contacted regarding a complaint, the case moves from the Summary Dismissal category to the Standard Disposition category. Upon completion of the preliminary investigation for the case in the standard category, the OPC will determine whether the informal case can be resolved in the public interest, the Attorney's interest and the Complainant's interest. Final dispositions that may occur in the Standard Dismissal category include:

  • Admonition (by Stipulation with Attorney)
  • Dismissed with Caution
  • Clerical Error
  • Complainant Withdrew
  • Disbarred in Other Formal Case
  • Dismissed Lack of Jurisdiction
  • Dismissed Lack of Merit
  • Duplicate
  • Ethics School Required
  • Dismissed No Response from Complainant
  • Referred to Fee Arbitration
  • Non Sufficient Funds ("NSF") Nonmeritorious
  • Prosecutorial Discretion
  • Dismissed Statute of Limitations
  • Mediated Dismissal

The dismissal of any informal case can be appealed by the Complainant to the Ethics and Discipline Chair within fifteen days of the dismissal.

Informal Complaint Referred to Screening Panel Through Notice of Informal Complaint ("NOIC")

If a case is determined to be of a more serious nature the OPC counsel will hold a charging conference. The matter is discussed and, if warranted, the case is referred to a Screening Panel of the Ethics and Discipline Committee.

The Ethics and Discipline Committee is appointed by the Supreme Court. The Committee consists of four public members, and eighteen members of the Bar who have demonstrated a high standard of professional conduct. The Committee is divided into four Screening Panels of four members of the Bar and one public member.

Once a case is referred to Screening Panel an NOIC is sent to the attorney formally notifying the attorney of the OPC's intent to bring the case before a Screening Panel. Many cases are settled prior to the case actually being presented to the Screening Panel.

NOIC Closed

The case is then heard by the screening panel. Final dispositions that the screening panel may recommend include:

  • Dismissal for Lack of Merit
  • Recommendation that a Dismissed with Caution be issued
  • Recommendation of a Dismissal Upon Condition of a specific performance by the Attorney (i.e. CLE, restitution, Ethics School)
  • Recommendation that the Attorney be Admonished
  • If there is a recommendation that the Attorney be admonished, the Attorney has ten days to file an exception to that recommendation to the Ethics and Discipline Chair.

Formal-Not-Filed

The screening panel may also recommend that a formal complaint be filed with the District Court.

If the Screening Panel recommends the case be filed as a formal complaint, negotiations can continue. Often the attorney has more than one case pending against him/her. If there is more than one case involved, a case may be temporarily held in the formal-not-filed category until the other cases pass through the process and can be combined for the filing of one complaint.

Formal Filed and Closed Formal

Once a formal complaint is filed with the district court, if no settlement can be reached, the case is prepared for a bench trial. The judge can order any of the following dispositions:

  • Dismissal
  • Admonition
  • CLE or Ethics School
  • Public Reprimand
  • Restitution
  • Probation
  • Suspension
  • Disbarment

All appeals from district court orders are directed to the Utah Supreme Court. Only the Attorney or OPC can appeal from the district court order.

Monitored Cases

Monitored cases include cases in abeyance and holding status, probation cases, or cases where certain conditions must be met. These cases require someone to docket reminder dates, and follow-up to ensure that the attorney is meeting the requirements of probation; or in the case of abeyance or holding, that the attorney keeps the OPC apprised as to the status of the other pending case.

At any time during the informal process, a request can be sent to the Ethics and Discipline Chair requesting that the case be placed in abeyance. A case may be placed in abeyance if the allegations are the subject of a civil or criminal case already before a judge.

At any time during the informal process, a case may be placed in a temporary holding status. This status is used when a formal case is already pending and it appears that that case will result in a disbarment.

When an Attorney is placed on probation, the supervising attorney is required to notify the Bar at regular intervals as to the progress of the attorney on probation. OPC monitors these cases.

Interim Suspension

If an Attorney poses a substantial threat of irreparable harm to the public and has either committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct or is under a disability as defined in the Rules of Lawyer Discipline and Disability, the OPC may file a petition for interim suspension and/or a request for trusteeship. This is an immediate filing to the district court and does not have to go through the NOIC process as outlined above.

Final Dispositions

Until a case reaches a "final" disposition, OPC considers it an active case. Final dispositions are cases where the result has been determined to be dismissed, dismissals with caution, admonition, public reprimand, disbarments, time-specified suspensions, non-monitored probations and resignations pending discipline, and where there is no appeal pending.


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