Kansas Bar Journal
Vol. 75 No. 9.
Thinking Ethics: Responding to an Ethics Complaint
Vol. 75 No. 9 October 2006Thinking Ethics: Responding to an Ethics ComplaintBy Stanton A. Hazlett The mail comes to your office. One of the envelopes is a light gray and the return address indicates the letter is from the Disciplinary Administrator's Office (DAO). An ominous warning in the lower left hand corner of the envelope indicates that the information contained is personal and confidential. It is likely that the envelope contains an ethics complaint. After you get over the anxiety and fright of receiving such a letter, what do you do? First, open the letter. No kidding. One Kansas attorney was disciplined because of his failure to open the correspondence notifying him of the complaint and promptly responding to the complaint filed against him. Ultimately, that lawyer received an informal admonition because he did not timely respond to the complaint received even though it was subsequently determined that the underlying complaint against the lawyer had no merit.
Remember that Supreme Court Rule 207 (SCR) and Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct 8.1 (KRPC), Bar Admission and Disciplinary Matters, require Kansas lawyers to cooperate in responding to a disciplinary complaint. Failure to cooperate and respond will result in the lawyer being disciplined. The letters from the DAO advising a Kansas lawyer that a complaint has been filed against him or her will set out the time limits for the lawyer to respond. If, for some reason, a lawyer cannot respond within the time limits set out, the lawyer need only call the lawyer assigned to the case in the DAO and a reasonable request for additional time will be granted.
The DAO receives approximately 1,000 complaints each year. Around 70 percent of those complaints are handled informally. Those complaints are not docketed for investigation, but the attorney is asked to provide a response to the DAO within 15 days. Complaints are handled in an informal fashion when it appears to the lawyer handling the case in the DAO that the complaint probably does not have merit and the lawyer will likely have an explanation for the allegations made by the complainant. The remaining 30 percent of the cases are docketed for investigation and assigned an investigator. The fact...