South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, January 2009, #1.
Justice Delayed is Justice Denied While Living in a World of the Second Best
South Carolina LawyerJanuary 2009Justice Delayed is Justice Denied While Living in a World of the Second Best At the invitation of the S.C. Supreme Court, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professional Discipline assembled a team of investigators to examine and make recommendations to improve the South Carolina disciplinary system for lawyers and judges. The consultation team issued its report in September 2008. The report points out a number of strengths of the South Carolina system. Any system can be improved, of course, and the report includes 17 recommendations for its enhancement. The full report with its recommendations is available on the Supreme Court's Web site at www.sccourts.org/ABA. The team prepared a separate report for the judicial discipline system. Several of the team's recommendations for the lawyer discipline system also apply to the system for judicial discipline. This article focuses on the recommendations for the lawyer discipline system.
The report includes many interesting and specific proposals for improving the South Carolina system, but I want to consider the report more generally. In particular, I will focus on two questions: What are the major themes that emerge from the report? What steps should the Court take to implement recommendations that it concludes are sound as a matter of policy?
As I studied the report, I was struck by two themes that reappeared throughout the document, themes that can be captured in two words: "delay" and "more."
The problem of delay
Most lawyers who have been involved in the lawyer disciplinary system know that it can be slow, but the statistics provided in the report are striking and disturbing. Caseload statistics from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) show that as of the time of the consultation team's visit in March 2008, the ODC had 778 active cases. Of these, 307 had been outstanding for more than two years. Of this group 104 cases were outstanding for at least four years, and some as many as 11 years. Page 14.
Where does delay occur in the system? The processing of cases begins well. Disciplinary counsel screen complaints and lawyer answers to determine whether the information set forth in...