Committee seeking response to proposed changes to lawyer-ethics rules, disciplinary process.

Byline: Erika Strebel,

A committee convened by the Wisconsin Supreme Court is proposing various changes to the state's lawyer-discipline procedures and rules, such as letting referees dole out license suspensions in certain circumstances without cases having to go before the high court.

One of the committee's several rule-change proposals would let referees impose law-license suspensions lasting as long as three years without the related disciplinary matter having to be considered by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Referees, under the proposed rule change, would also be able to approve consensual reprimands made in public or in private, as well as stipulations that, under certain conditions, might involve suspensions lasting as long as a year.

Current rules let referees only recommend license suspensions, as well as public and private reprimands. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the entity ultimately responsible for making final decisions about what sorts of discipline ought to be imposed.

After taking more than a year to review lawyer-discipline procedures and the Office of Lawyer Regulation, the committee is also calling for:

requiring the OLR to provide written explanations to grievants when it chooses to close a disciplinary matter;

requiring lawyer-regulators to notify the law firms of lawyers who have been formally charged with misconduct;

limiting the pool of appointed referees to 24 members who serve staggered four-year terms;

requiring referees to attend an educational seminar upon appointment and additional training every two years during their terms;

removing referees who do not complete such training;

requiring referees to file a statement with the court if they cannot submit reports 30 days after a hearing has taken place, or hearing transcripts or post-hearing briefs have been filed;

reducing the period in whichgrievances can be filed from 10 years to six years from when a grievant knew or reasonably should have known of lawyer misconduct;

requiring lawyers to report misconduct by another lawyer if they "reasonably believe" a rule-violation has occurred. The current rule requires lawyers to report misconduct only if they "know" a violation has occurred.

prohibiting lawyers from making agreements with clients that limit any person's right to report a...

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