|Oregon State Bar Bulletin AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2008|
A Process with Integrity
By Gilbert B. Feibleman
Day in and day out volunteer members of the OSB participate in investigation and prosecution of claims of lawyer misconduct. While many complaints are dismissed after an initial review by the dedicated bar disciplinary staff, others are sent for investigation by one of 68 volunteer lawyers who, with 16 public members constitute the local professional responsibility committees. After investigation, more complaints are dismissed, but others are authorized for formal proceedings by the State Professional Responsibility Board, a volunteer group of seven lawyers and two public members. Trial panels are drawn from the 67 lawyers and 21 public members who serve on the Disciplinary Board. When a case goes to trial, the bar often enlists one of the approximately 80 lawyers who make themselves available to serve as volunteer prosecutors.
These dedicated volunteers diligently review and evaluate charges of misconduct, exonerating the lawyers where there is insufficient evidence and protecting the public by sanctioning lawyers who have engaged in violates of the rules of professional conduct. When we pick up the Bulletin and read the disciplinary news, it is easy to overlook the volunteer time and dedication that went into those cases.
I have had the pleasure of working with the disciplinary system for nearly 20 years, about half as a volunteer prosecutor, and the remainder as a disciplinary board member, including one as chair of the Region 6 panel. My years as a bar prosecutor were an interesting change of pace from my civil practice. Bar prosecutions ranged from sad tales of trust fund violations and neglect of clients’ cases, to lawyers who used their influence and authority over their clients to demand sexual favors in exchange for legal services. The work was challenging and interesting, a world apart from my day-to-day civil work. One nice thing about prosecution was that you had no job other than to prove misconduct by clear and convincing evidence. It was the trial panel’s job to weigh the evidence.
When I was asked to serve on the disciplinary
board, things changed. A fundamental aspect of our
disciplinary process is that lawyers are judged by
a panel of their peers, who will carefully weigh the
facts, not be swayed by emotion, and most importantly,
will hold the bar to the required standard of proof
by clear and
convincing evidence. Just as we have high standards for the conduct we expect from lawyers, we also have a high standard for the quantum of proof that is required to discipline them.
Each disciplinary panel is made up of two lawyers and one public member from the region of the accused lawyer’s office.
Disciplinary trials proceed much as civil or criminal trials. Decisions are rendered in a detailed written opinion. The trial panel decision is final unless either the accused lawyer or the bar request review by the supreme court.
The disciplinary process is often a lengthy one, but it is an effective means for protecting the public from errant lawyers and for protecting lawyers from false accusations. It is, however, heavily dependent on having sufficient volunteers from the bar.
Members of the disciplinary board are appointed by the Oregon Supreme Court to serve as the trial judges in this critical public protection function. If you are interested in being a part of it, I strongly encourage you to indicate your interest by going to the "Volunteer Opportunities" Form and Brochure on the osbar.org website. The time commitment is not very great. A term on the disciplinary board is for three years. Panel members typically sit on two or three cases per year. Most hearings take one day, with additional time to prepare the opinion if you chair the panel. Overall, it is a very small commitment of time, yet an integral part of keeping our disciplinary process moving smoothly.
Probably the best part of serving on the panels is working with the other volunteers. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve with such dedicated and committed lawyers and public members who share an interest in ensuring that the public is protected by a process that has integrity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gil Feibleman is a Portland lawyer, member of the Disciplinary Board and current chair of the Region 6 disciplinary panel.
© 2008 Gil Feibleman