STATE BAR COMPLAINT PROCESS
Most often State Bar matters begin as complaints received from clients or other members of the public. The vast majority of complaints come from unhappy clients. Judges, unpaid lien holders or opposing parties can also complain against an attorney, which will result in the opening of an investigation. There is no standing requirement for proceeding as a complaining witness in a State Bar investigation.
There is never an obligation to report attorneys to the State Bar (even where an attorney believes misconduct has occurred). Many times, clients who owe legal fees to an attorney file complaints with the State Bar. While mere fee disputes should not result in a State Bar investigation, the fact that a client may be making a complaint for strategic reasons is not a basis to close a discipline investigation. The State Bar’s primary mission is to protect the public.
STATE BAR INVESTIGATIONS
The State Bar can open an investigation based on potential misconduct discovered in reading the news, or listening to radio or television reports, resulting in an SBI or State Bar Investigation. SBIs can also stem from a “reportable action” such as when a bank reports that a check was returned or paid against non-sufficient funds, or when an Errors and Omissions carrier pays out on certain types of claims made against an attorney. SBIs form only a small percentage of the cases investigated and prosecuted by the State Bar.
The State Bar is required to report to the legislature the number of investigations which have not been closed or resolved by the filing of a Notice of Disciplinary Charges or a Disciplinary Stipulation within six months of the date the complaint was received by the State Bar as of December 31st for that year in its annual Discipline Report. Those investigations which remain open over six months (or twelve months for complex investigations) are considered backlog.
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REPRESENTING CLIENTS THROUGHOUT ALL OF CALIFORNIA
When you get a letter from the State Bar, don’t go it alone! You need competent, experienced counsel to respond to the State Bar at every stage. Your license is at risk, so ensure you have the best representation from a former State Bar prosecutor before sending any response to an investigator or responding to formal charges leveled by the State Bar. You cannot make an informed decision without good advice. Call Erin now.