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Frequently Asked Questions
Confidentiality and Attorney Records
Can I find out if an attorney has been disciplined?
There are strict rules
Administrative Order No. 9
- defining what disciplinary information may be disclosed. Either the Office of Disciplinary Counsel or the Office of Bar Counsel can advise you whether the attorney has been the subject of an order of public discipline. Neither office can tell you whether the attorney has received private discipline or disclose the number of disciplinary complaints, if any, that have been filed against your attorney. Rules of confidentiality require that neither office may tell you if there are any complaints against a particular attorney that are presently pending investigation.
Can I tell my lawyer that I filed a complaint against him/her?
Can I tell my new lawyer that I filed a complaint against my former lawyer?
Will my lawyer find out about my complaint?
Unless good cause is shown to withhold the information from the respondent attorney, Disciplinary Counsel will send a copy of the letter of complaint to the lawyer, requesting a response. A copy of that response is not provided to the complainant.
Will the information I send you remain confidential?
All disciplinary inquiries and proceedings are strictly confidential unless and until a formal petition of misconduct is filed. This rule protects attorneys from public disclosure of allegations that may turn out to be meritless. Proceedings are no longer confidential once Disciplinary Counsel files a petition of misconduct.
Filing a Complaint
Can I file a complaint against a judge?
Yes, but with another Board -- the Judicial Conduct Board. The Chair of the Board is Robert Keiner.
to access his contact information.
How do I file a complaint?
All complaints must be in writing and signed by the complainant. There is no complaint form. Please be sure to include your mailing address, an email address if available, and a daytime telephone number where you can be reached. A delay in filing a complaint could also make it more difficult for the lawyer or others to take corrective action. To view our Complaint Brochureclick here.
Is there a time limit or deadline on filing a complaint?
No. There is no Statute of Limitations. However, there is generally more evidence available if the complaint is filed shortly after the events occurred.
Must I be represented in order to file a complaint?
What does it cost to file a complaint?
There is no cost, but your assistance and cooperation are necessary.
What kind of documentation do you need?
While you should gather and organize as many relevant documents you need to support the allegation of misconduct and may refer to them in your letter of complaint, please do not send documents to Disciplinary Counsel, unless and until, he asks you for them.
Structure of the Lawyer Disciplinary Process and the Rules of Professional Responsibility
Are there any kinds of cases you don't handle?
We refer complaints about a lawyer’s bill to the VBA Fee Arbitration Committee. If there are acts of misconduct detected by this committee, it will refer the matter back to the Professional Responsibility Program.
Can I get a copy of the rules?
The Rules of Professional Conduct are available on this webpage under Rules of Professional Conduct.
Administrative Order NO. 9
is the rules which govern how the disciplinary system works.
What are the Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct?
All lawyers admitted to practice in Vermont are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct. The purpose of the Rules is to set forth minimum ethical standards for the practice of law. The rules are based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, with several variations to allow for Vermont’s particular standards. It is these Rules which Disciplinary Counsel applies when determining whether or not a lawyer’s conduct is impermissible.
What disciplinary action can be taken against a lawyer?
Discipline can be imposed in two forms – private and public discipline.
Private discipline of “Informal Admonitions,” can be imposed as by agreement between the parties or by a hearing panel at the conclusion of a hearing.
All other discipline is public. An attorney who is reprimanded will be publicly sanctioned; the attorney’s name and violation will be reported to the media. An attorney who is suspended for less than six months may not practice law until the suspension period ends. An attorney who is suspended for more than six months or who is disbarred, loses his/her license to practice law and cannot be reinstated unless the lawyer proves that he or she has been rehabilitated and is fit to practice.
See Rule 22(D), AO9.
What if I don't have internet access? Can you send me a copy?
Unfortunately, no. The document is far too voluminous. However, many school, law, and public libraries have the Rules in book form.
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What you Should Expect
Are you part of the Bar Association? Can I file a complaint with the Bar Association?
The Professional Responsibility Program is an agency of the judiciary, one of three branches of state government. The Vermont Supreme Court has sole jurisdiction over the conduct and license of Vermont attorneys. The Professional Responsibility Program operates pursuant to this authority and in compliance with Supreme Court rules.
The Vermont Bar Association is a private association of lawyers, separate and distinct from the Professional Responsibility Program. The VBA provides educational material to lawyers regarding their ethical responsibilities. It operates a number of volunteer committees which play an important role and upon which the Professional Responsibility Program relies. For instance, we refer fee complaints to one of their committees which, in turn, will arbitrate a fee dispute.
Can the Governor or my State Representative help? How about the Attorney General’s Office or the Consumer Assistance Program?
Under the Constitution of Vermont, the Supreme Court of Vermont has exclusive jurisdiction to oversee the conduct of lawyers. Also under the Constitution of Vermont, neither the Governor nor the State Legislature has any power over the regulation of the conduct of lawyers, an area of authority which the Constitution reserves exclusively to the Vermont Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Vermont has delegated much of this authority to the Professional Responsibility Program. Most of the functions of the Professional Responsibility Program are carried out by two Disciplinary Counsel and one part-time Bar Counsel, one Program Administrator and one Administrative Assistant.
The Attorney General has a limited role in that he can investigate and prosecute criminal conduct such as practicing law without a license or embezzling client funds. Matters relevant to both or one of these functions are routinely referred back and forth between the Attorney General’s Office and the Professional Responsibility Program.
Do I have the right to attend any disciplinary hearing that might be held in connection with my complaint?
If your complaint becomes the subject of formal charges brought by the Disciplinary Counsel, you have a right to attend the proceedings. At that stage of the process, the matter is public. Keep in mind that a complainant is not a party to the disciplinary proceedings. The parties are the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the Respondent.
Do I need a lawyer to file a complaint?
No, but you may hire one if you choose to. Most complainants do not.
Does Disciplinary Counsel contact you once you file a complaint?
Your relationship to the proceedings is akin to that of a witness, not a party. Disciplinary Counsel cannot give you any legal advice. However, should Disciplinary Counsel have additional questions concerning your complaint, he/she may call you.
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