General Counsel on

Domestic Relations and Criminal Law Continue to Recieve Most Grievances

By Gina Hendryx, General Counsel

The 2009 Annual Report of the Professional Responsibility Commission (PRC) and the Professional Responsibility Tribunal (PRT) was filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court by the Office of the General Counsel on Feb. 5, 2010. The annual report reflects grievances and complaints lodged against attorneys that were received and processed in 2009 by the general counsel.

The PRC considers and investigates any alleged grounds for discipline or incapacity of a lawyer called to its attention or upon its own motion and takes such action as deemed appropriate including the issuance of a private reprimand or referral for the filing of formal charges. Under the supervision of the PRC, the Office of the General Counsel investigates these attorney grievance matters and reports its findings directly to the commissioners. The PRC consists of five lawyers and two nonlawyer members.

Should a formal grievance be referred for the filing of formal charges with the Supreme Court, a three-member panel of the PRT presides at the hearing and prepares a report that includes findings of fact and conclusions of law with a recommendation to the court as to discipline if such is indicated. The PRT is composed of 14 lawyers and seven nonlawyer members.

A review of the statistics for 2009 indicates that a total of 1,500 informal and formal grievances involving 1,076 attorneys were received and processed by the Office of the General Counsel. To put this in perspective, the total number of Oklahoma licensed attorneys as of Dec. 31, 2009 was 16,438. Considering the total membership, the receipt of 1,500 grievances involving 1,076 attorneys constitutes approximately 9 percent of the attorneys licensed to practice law in Oklahoma. Therefore, 91 percent of the attorneys licensed to practice law in Oklahoma did not receive a grievance in 2009.

Of those grievances referred for investigation, more than 50 percent were complaints of neglect. This statistics holds true year in and year out. The overwhelming complaint received against attorneys is that the lawyer is being inattentive to either the legal matter or the client. The next most often-received complaint is that of misrepresentation (10%) followed closely by personal behavior (9%).

In 2009, the areas of practice receiving the most grievances were domestic relations (25%) and criminal law (22%). Again, these two practice areas historically receive the most complaints.

Last year the PRC issued private reprimands to 15 attorneys involving 17 grievances. In addition, 22 grievances were dismissed with a letter of admonition cautioning that the conduct of the attorney was dangerously close to a violation of a disciplinary rule. The PRC dismissed 140 grievances after a full investigation found the matters were without merit. The commission voted the filing of formal charges against seven lawyers involving 24 grievances.

In 2009, 18 disciplinary cases were acted upon by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Of those 18, two lawyers were disbarred, five lawyer resignations pending disciplinary action were approved, three lawyers were suspended, one lawyer received a public censure and four matters were dismissed without discipline.

In addition to the public discipline, the court also issued two private reprimands and three confidential interim suspensions.

Statistically, 2009 was similar to previous years. The number of grievances received was slightly lower that 2008, but the number of attorneys receiving those grievances increased. Neglect continues to be the most common complaint and the practice areas of domestic relations and criminal law routinely garner the most dissatisfaction with lawyer performance.

You may view the complete annual report here.


Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- March 13, 2009 -- Vol. 81, No. 27