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Complaint Resolution Program

Complaint Resolution Program FAQ | Complaint Resolution Guidelines

An alternative method for the resolution of lawyer disciplinary complaints

The public should expect lawyers to be competent, diligent, and prompt in their capacity as professionals. Lawyers who do not meet this expectation may be in violation of Missouri's Rules of Professional Conduct, enforced under the authority of the Supreme Court of Missouri. The Rules set the legal profession's standards for ethical, professional behavior.

Clients or other lawyers who believe a lawyer has behaved unethically or unprofessionally should file a complaint with the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Missouri. That office will review the complaint, then determine whether it may be best resolved in a meeting with the parties and a third party neutral to assist them to resolve the complaint, or if more formal disciplinary proceedings are appropriate.

If the complaint alleges a severe breach of duty, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel will start an investigation. If the charges are proven true, the lawyer will face a range of disciplinary actions.

If the alleged violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct is less serious, but, nevertheless, an area of concern - perhaps involving poor service or communications problems the Chief Disciplinary Counsel may refer the complaint to The Missouri Bar Complaint Resolution Program. Complaints involving lawyers who have a history of grievances being filed against them, although less serious in nature, will remain in the formal disciplinary system. 

 

Complaint Resolution Program FAQ

What is the Complaint Resolution Program?

The Missouri Bar sponsors this program to provide the public and the legal profession a system to work together to ensure that clients receive quality service. The program assists with the resolution of complaints about lawyers that the Chief Disciplinary Counsel has determined may best be resolved outside the formal disciplinary system.

Through this program, clients and lawyers are provided an opportunity to meet, be heard, and attempt to resolve the issue in a conference or meeting. All proceedings within the program are confidential.

The Complaint Resolution Program is authorized by Supreme Court of Missouri.

Who Benefits From the Complaint Resolution Program?

Clients and lawyers alike benefit from the services of this program. For clients, the program provides an opportunity to participate in the process to achieve a speedy and meaningful remedy to complaints. Previously, clients who filed complaints had no choice other than the formal discipline system. Lawyers benefit from a quicker resolution and have a chance to actively participate in the process of resolving the complaint against them.

Who Oversees the Complaint Resolution Program?

A five member committee appointed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors oversees the program. A Missouri Bar staff member administers the day-to-day activities.

What is the Cost to Use This Program?

There is no cost to either party to use the services of this program to resolve complaints. Funding for the program is provided by The Missouri Bar with assistance from The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company.

How Are Disputes Resolved?

The lawyer and client meet with a volunteer panel member who will assist them to voice their concerns, explore alternatives to resolve the dispute, and aid them in reaching an agreement or resolution. The process is typically informal. The panel member will not decide the matter - the parties themselves work toward a mutually agreeable resolution with the assistance of the panel member. The parties must come to the meeting with a willingness to act in good faith to resolve the complaint. However, no one will be coerced into accepting any agreement or resolution with which they are not comfortable.

If appropriate, the lawyer respondents may be referred to programs to assist them with practice management or other issues in order to avoid repeating the circumstances that raised the complaint. Clients may also be informed about issues relating generally to the legal system to help clear up any misunderstanding, or they may be referred to other sources. The panel member will not act in the capacity of a lawyer or give specific legal advice while assigned to the matter.

Who Are The Voluntary Panel Members?

The panel members are volunteer lawyers from throughout the state who generously donate their time to this public service program. They are appointed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors. The panel members are trained specifically to handle these types of matters. The panel members will remain neutral - they will not take the side of either party, but they are there to assist the parties.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Use This Program?

The process is very informal, thus it is not necessary to have a lawyer represent you. All parties, however, have the right to be represented by a lawyer at the meeting at their expense. The panel member establishes the ground rules for the meeting and ensures that both parties are heard equally and that no one party overpowers the meeting.

How are Complaints Filed in This Program?

All complaints about lawyer disciplinary matters must be filed with The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. The Chief Disciplinary Counsel is appointed by the Supreme Court of Missouri to handle ethical complaints about lawyers. Only the Chief Disciplinary Counsel has the authority to investigate and refer complaints that may be best resolved outside of the traditional disciplinary system to The Missouri Bar Complaint Resolution Program.

Complaints about lawyers should be made in writing detailing the complaint and mailed to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, 3335 American Avenue, Jefferson City, MO 65109.

Cases may be referred to the Complaint Resolution Program by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel only after they have been thoroughly screened and reviewed.

What Happens When the Complaint is Referred to the Program?

After the complaint is referred, the program administrator at The Missouri Bar will open an active file and ask both parties to sign a form voluntarily agreeing to participate in a meeting to attempt to resolve the matter. The lawyer is asked to formally respond to the complaint. When the response from the lawyer and the consent forms are received, the matter is assigned to a panel member and the meeting is scheduled as quickly as possible.

The meeting will be scheduled at a time convenient for both parties. The panel member will not serve as a judge, but will assist the parties to reach an agreement or understanding. Following the meeting, the panel member will verify that any performance required in the agreement has been completed. The file will then be returned to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel with a report. The matter is then closed.

Where Will the Meeting be Held?

The meetings are held in a location that is as convenient as possible to both parties, usually in your town or city. The panel members travel to the location.

What if the Lawyer Does Not Agree to Participate?

If the lawyer does not respond or does not agree to participate in the meeting, or more serious misconduct is revealed, the file will be returned to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel who will determine if the complaint should be handled in the formal disciplinary process.

What if the Complainant Does Not Agree to Participate?

If the complainant does not wish to participate in the meeting, the file will be closed and returned to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for whatever action, if any, is appropriate.

Who Do I Contact For More Information?

The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel
3335 American Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65109

or

The Missouri Bar
P.O. Box 119
Jefferson City, MO 65102
(573) 635-4128
mobar@mobar.org

 

 

Complaint Resolution Guidelines

Pursuant to Rule 5.10, the chief disciplinary counsel will refer to the complaint resolution program those complaints it believes may be resolved through an alternative resolution process rather than through formal disciplinary proceedings. Such complaints shall be processed as provided by these guidelines.

The complaint resolution program shall be administered by a three person complaint resolution committee, which will oversee the complaint resolution panel of volunteers, hereinafter referred to as panel members, as well as the complaint resolution program staff coordinator. The complaint resolution committee shall be appointed by The Missouri Bar board of governors, with the chair designated by the president of The Missouri Bar. The terms of the complaint resolution committee appointees shall be for three years, except with the first committee having staggered one, two and three year terms. No Committee member shall be requested to serve more than two successive terms. Terms of the panel members shall be for four years, and no member shall be requested to serve more than two successive terms.

The complaint resolution program staff coordinator shall have the duties of maintaining all files received; assignment of panel members; giving notices; making arrangements for all conferences; record keeping; compiling of reports to The Missouri Bar and chief disciplinary counsel; and handling administrative tasks. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator shall be designated by the executive director of The Missouri Bar.

The chief disciplinary counsel will first determine whether the complaint appears appropriate for referral to the complaint resolution program. After a complaint is referred to the complaint resolution program, the complaint resolution program will solicit an answer from the respondent lawyer. Once the answer is received, the complaint resolution program chair or staff coordinator will assign the matter to a resolution panel member who will solicit further information from the parties and hold a mediation-like conference. Following the conference, the panel member will prepare an appropriate report to be returned to the complaint resolution program coordinator for forwarding to the chief disciplinary counsel's office. If the respondent lawyer does not participate, or if it appears that the respondent has engaged in serious misconduct, the matter will be returned to the chief disciplinary counsel for further proceedings. If the complainant does not participate, the complaint resolution committee will refer the complaint back to the chief disciplinary counsel noting such.

The goal of this program is to assist the chief disciplinary counsel in the resolution of grievances and to assure the public and the legal profession that such grievances can be resolved in a just fashion and in accordance with the reasonable expectations of all parties.

Lawyers will be nominated to serve on the complaint resolution program by the president of The Missouri Bar, who will forward their names to The Missouri Bar board of governors for consideration for appointment to the complaint resolution program. In order to keep The Missouri Bar apprised of the complaint resolution program's work, the complaint resolution program will make a quarterly report to the president of The Missouri Bar concerning the progress of the complaint resolution program.

Panel Procedures

1. The first step in the process is the referral of the complaint to the complaint resolution program. After the chief disciplinary counsel has determined that the complaint is appropriate for referral, the chief disciplinary counsel staff coordinator will send a letter to the complainant and the respondent advising them that the matter is being forwarded to the complaint resolution program. The chief disciplinary counsel staff coordinator will send the chief disciplinary counsel file to the extent that the same relates to the complaint against this lawyer, including the complaint and the letter advising the parties of the reference to the complaint resolution program, to the complaint resolution program staff coordinator.

2. After receiving the file from the chief disciplinary counsel, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator will set up the complaint resolution program file. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will assign a complaint resolution program docket number to the matter using as a prefix the year the file was received, e.g., 96-1, 96-2, etc. After the matter is assigned to a panel member (see section 8 below), the panel member's initials will be added as a suffix. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will prepare two index cards for the matter. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will maintain one set of index cards in numerical order and one set in alphabetical order by the respondent lawyer's last name. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will also maintain a computerized record of each matter, which will contain the same information set forth on the index cards.

3. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will set up a confidential file for each matter, which will contain the original documents submitted to the complaint resolution program by the chief disciplinary counsel, the complainant, the respondent lawyer or third parties. This file will remain at all times under the custody of the complaint resolution program. The matter file, the index cards and the computerized docket will all be prominently marked "confidential", and the complaint resolution program staff coordinator will take all reasonable steps to maintain such confidentiality. Absent an order from the Supreme Court of Missouri, the only persons who shall have access to the confidential files of the complaint resolution program are the complaint resolution committee, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator, the complaint resolution program secretary, members of staff of the chief disciplinary counsel, personnel authorized by the Supreme Court of Missouri, and, except as to internal memoranda, the complainant and respondent lawyer and their respective counsel, if any.

4. Promptly after receipt of the file from the chief disciplinary counsel, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator will send a letter signed by the chair of the complaint resolution committee to the respondent lawyer with a copy to the complainant notifying the respondent of the receipt of the file from the chief disciplinary counsel and requesting a written response to the complaint with twenty days. In addition, both parties will be asked to sign an agreement committing to voluntarily participate in the complaint resolution conference. All written communications from the complaint resolution program to the parties shall bear the legend, "ALL PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMPLAINT RESOLUTION PROGRAM ARE CONFIDENTIAL, AND ANY UNAUTHORIZED DISCLOSURE RELATING THERETO IS PROHIBITED BY LAW." In addition, all envelopes should be marked "PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL."

5. If the complaint resolution committee does not receive a reply from the respondent, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator will send a second letter advising the respondent that failure to respond within ten days will result in the case being returned to the chief disciplinary counsel. This letter will be sent certified mail, return receipt requested.

6. If the respondent does not answer after an additional ten days, or if the respondent does not sign the form consenting to participate in a resolution conference, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator will return the file to the chief disciplinary counsel, with a closing memorandum. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will send a letter to the respondent, with a copy to the complainant, advising the respondent that the matter has been returned to the chief disciplinary counsel and enclose a copy of the closing memorandum. The appropriate notation will be made in the complaint resolution program records.

7. If the complainant does not agree to participate in the resolution conference by returning the signed consent form, the complaint resolution committee will review the matter before returning it to the office of chief disciplinary counsel with an appropriate recommendation. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will send a letter to the complainant, with a copy to the respondent, advising the complainant that the matter has been returned to the chief disciplinary counsel and enclose a copy of the closing memorandum. The appropriate notation will be made in the complaint resolution program records.

8. If the respondent files a response and both parties agree in writing to participate in the resolution conference, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator, in consultation with the complaint resolution committee chair, will assign the matter to a panel member. Assignments will be made to panel members on a rotating basis, by geographic location. Panel members will keep the complaint resolution program staff coordinator informed if they expect to be unavailable for any extended period of time.

9. Before determining the panel member's availability to serve, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator shall advise the panel member of the identities of the complainant and respondent lawyer in order to determine the possibility of conflicts of interest between the panel member and the parties. The panel member should attempt to determine whether members of the panel member's firm or organization have an adversarial relationship with either party. In doing so, the panel member should keep in mind that the complaint resolution process is confidential, and any inquiries concerning conflicts should be made discreetly. If the panel member does not believe that he or she can serve as an impartial neutral, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator should be advised to assign the matter to another panel member. Additionally, prior to the start of the conference process, either party may timely object, within ten days of the receipt of notification of the name of the assigned panel member, and exercise peremptory challenge to the panel member serving as the panel member, at which time the panel member must be excused and advise the complaint resolution program staff coordinator that a new panel member must be assigned to the case. Only one such challenge shall be allowed to each party.

10. Once the panel member has decided that they can serve, the panel member and the complaint resolution program staff coordinator will set a date for the conference within a period from twenty to forty days after the date of the panel member's assignment to the matter. If the prospective panel member is unavailable during this interval, the complaint resolution program staff coordinator will choose another panel member in consultation with the complaint resolution program chair.

11. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will send a letter to the panel member, confirming the panel member's assignment to the matter, enclosing a copy of the complaint, the response, and the notice of the complaint resolution conference (see section 12 below), setting forth the proposed conference date and time. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will send a copy of this letter together with a copy of the complaint and the response to the complainant and the respondent. This letter and all other communications between the complaint resolution program and panel member will bear the legend: "PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL: TO BE OPENED BY ADDRESSEE ONLY."

12. After reviewing the file, the panel member will choose the location of the conference. The conference may be held at a private conference room in the panel member's offices, at The Missouri Bar Center, or at another convenient location chosen by the panel member. Conferences will be held in circumstances that assure confidentiality. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will make arrangements for the use of the facilities for the conference. The panel member should determine, prior to the conference, whether there are any documents, witnesses or information which the parties should bring to the conference that would assist the process. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will schedule all conferences and send a notice of the complaint resolution conference to the parties; this notice will contain the date, time and place of the conference and will set forth the documents, witnesses or information requested by the panel member. The panel member should advise the parties to forward all documentary evidence to the panel member ten days prior to the conference date.

13. The panel member shall consider and decide all requests for adjournments, but adjournments should be granted sparingly. In no event should the conference be adjourned more than seventy-five days after the complaint resolution program has referred it to the panel member. If the respondent does not appear, the panel member will refer the matter back to the complaint resolution program, which will in turn refer it back to the chief disciplinary counsel. If the complainant does not appear, the panel member will refer the matter back to the complaint resolution program for referral to the chief disciplinary counsel.

14. The panel member may recommend, after consultation with the complaint resolution committee, that the matter be disposed of without a conference. Although the complaint resolution committee may review such recommendation and consent to it, the complaint resolution program discourages such dispositions. However, if the complaint resolution committee agrees to such a decision, the complaint resolution committee will prepare a closing memorandum setting forth the reasons for this decision and will return it with the file to the complaint resolution program staff coordinator. The complaint resolution committee chair will send a letter to the complainant, with a copy to the respondent, advising of the disposition and enclosing a copy of the closing memorandum. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will return the file with the closing memorandum to the chief disciplinary counsel and will make an appropriate notation in the complaint resolution program's records.

15. The panel member will conduct the conference informally. At the outset, the panel member should make clear to the parties that the panel member is serving as a facilitator and not a judge. The panel member's role is to promote communication and suggest ways of resolving the dispute; the panel member is not to impose a settlement on the parties. The panel member shall make every effort to hear all the relevant facts, review all the documents, familiarize herself or himself with any controlling relevant legal principles, and seek to bring about an acceptable resolution between the parties. The panel member should refrain from using legal jargon. The panel member should advise the lawyer respondent before the conference begins that the panel member must report any serious ethical violations as outlined under Supreme Court Rule 4-8.3. If notes are taken by the panel member during the conference, they should be destroyed immediately thereafter. The panel member should make sure that any proposal offered for resolution of the matter is clearly understood by the parties and perceived to be fair. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the panel member should return the matter to the compliant resolution program staff coordinator with the instructions that it be forwarded to the chief disciplinary counsel.

16. The panel member should have the parties sign an agreement setting forth the terms of the resolution of the complaint. The panel member should keep in mind that performance of the agreement should take place within a reasonably short time after the conference so that the complaint resolution program is able to close the file. The panel member should advise the parties that they may contact the panel member if they have any difficulty enforcing the agreement. However, if one of the parties refuses to abide by the agreement, the matter should be returned to the complaint resolution program so that it may be referred back to the chief disciplinary counsel for further proceedings.

In accordance with Supreme Court Rule 4 -1.8(h), the lawyer respondent shall not make an agreement in the conference that limits the lawyer respondent's liability to the complainant for malpractice unless permitted by law and the complainant is independently represented in making the agreement, or settle a claim for such liability with unrepresented client or former client without first advising that person in writing that independent representation is appropriate.

17. At any time, the panel member may refer the complaint back to the complaint resolution program for review by the Committee if the respondent will not participate in the complaint resolution program or if the panel member believes that the respondent has engaged in misconduct warranting proceedings pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 5. Following the committee's review, the complaint will be referred back to the office of chief disciplinary counsel.

18. At the conclusion of the conference, or if the matter is closed prior to the conference, the panel member will prepare a closing memorandum reflecting the disposition of the matter, which will promptly be sent to the complaint resolution program staff coordinator. The complaint resolution program staff coordinator will forward the closing memorandum to the chief disciplinary counsel within ten days of the panel member's disposition of the matter. The complaint program staff coordinator will then forward a copy of the closing memorandum, appropriate disposition letter and agreement to the complainant and respondent.