Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the article in the November 1, 2013 issue of The Florida Bar News about the issue of publicizing pending Bar disciplinary matters which was discussed by the Bar Board of Governors (BOG) Communications Committee at its meeting on October 3, 2013. The article is here: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/jnnews01.nsf/8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829/8349dc13e54c79b685257c0b00445113!OpenDocument
The Florida Bar provides information and documents related to a lawyer’s final discipline in the past ten (10) years on the lawyer’s profile on its website at http://www.floridabar.org/ According to the News article, the BOG Communications Committee discussed at what point information about pending disciplinary cases should appear on the lawyer’s website profile at its October 3, 2013 meeting. The committee discussed the question and ultimately decided to create a subcommittee to examine the issue, which was reported to the full BOG.
The BOG recently approved the committee’s recommendation to immediately post disciplinary information when the Supreme Court issues an order in a discipline case. That decision addressed concerns that the Bar’s website had continued to show that a lawyer was a member in good standing from the date of the Florida Supreme Court’s disciplinary Order and the 30 day period during which a suspended or disbarred attorney is typically allowed to close down his or her law practice.
According to the News article, the suggestion that the Bar post information and a link when a referee has reached a finding of guilt and recommends discipline in a Bar grievance matter or when the Bar and accused lawyer reach a consent agreement was endorsed by the Citizens Forum. Some committee members expressed concerns during that posting information could damage lawyers who are later acquitted or found guilty of less serious violations. Others stated that not posting the information would mean that the Bar’s website would continue to show a member as in good standing even after a referee has recommended sanctions for serious disciplinary violations.
The article said that committee members also said that any policy must acknowledge that most information about a pending disciplinary matter becomes public once a disciplinary committee finds probable cause or find no probable cause and there are limited exceptions which allow the Bar to acknowledge the existence of an investigation prior to a grievance committee finding.
Bottom line: Although this issue does not affect most lawyers, the question is whether it is appropriate to publicize a lawyer’s disciplinary matter on that lawyer’s profile on the Bar’s website when the disciplinary matter is not final and the lawyer has not actually been disciplined. My belief is that this would be inappropriate. You can make your position known to the Bar as well.
Let’s be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this blog is not an advertisement and does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
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Clearwater, Florida 33759
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