When a complaint is received at the OPC, a file is opened and an informal
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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- CLE or Ethics School
- Public Reprimand
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 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.
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.
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