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tion or to dismiss the grievance.
If there is related civil or criminal
litigation, disciplinary counsel may
defer investigation until the litigation
resolves. 7 Disciplinary counsel’s decision on deferral, similar to a decision on
dismissal, can be reviewed by a review
committee of the Disciplinary Board.
Many grievances that are investigated
are then dismissed. 8 Some grievances
involving less serious misconduct re-
sult in a lawyer’s referral to diversion
from discipline under ELC Title 6,
where a lawyer enters into a contract
with disciplinary counsel including
terms, for example, that the lawyer seek
counseling, resolve client disputes, or
improve law office management. After
successful completion of the contract
terms, the grievance will be dismissed.
If disciplinary counsel does not dismiss a grievance after an investigation,
disciplinary counsel could recommend
an admonition (which, since 2014, is
a permanent disciplinary record) or
a public disciplinary hearing. Many
factors influence disciplinary counsel’s recommendation — for example,
whether evidence will prove an RPC
violation by a clear preponderance of
the evidence, whether the American
Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions justify a sanction
of reprimand or greater, and whether
Washington Supreme Court precedent
Disciplinary hearings, which take
place before hearing officers appointed
by the Washington Supreme Court, are
public, as are appeals to the Disciplinary Board and Washington Supreme
Court. 9 Public disciplinary actions include admonition, reprimand, suspension up to three years, and disbarment.
Many disciplinary proceedings resolve by agreement. A stipulation to
discipline requires approval by a hearing officer, the Disciplinary Board, or
the Supreme Court. 10 Under some circumstances, a lawyer may permanently
resign his or her membership in lieu of
further disciplinary proceedings. 11
For additional information, see http://
bit.ly/grievancefaqs for more answers
to frequently asked questions about the
grievance process and responding to a
grievance, and follow links to the current RPC and ELC.
To discuss an ethical issue, call the
Ethics Line at 206-727-8284. For other
articles on lawyer discipline, read
suggestions for responding to a grievance in the JAN 2014 NWSidebar, the
JUL 2011 Bar News article by Gregory
Dahl, and the AUG 2009 Bar News interview with Chief Disciplinary Counsel Douglas Ende. NWL
FELICE P. CONGALTON is an associate director in the WSBA Office
of Disciplinary Counsel.
1. This article updates an article published in
the MAY 2007 Washington State Bar News.