Who Disciplines Lawyers?
“It sounds scary, but it’s comforting too,” said 3L Erica Gonzalez, after she attended “Who Disciplines Attorneys” at TJSL, an event presented by La Raza Students Association on Monday, October 11.
California State Bar Judge Lucy Armendariz was here to give an hour long presentation on the attorney discipline system – the only one of its kind in the U.S. She said the system has been put in place to help clients who have been harmed by attorneys and to “make sure we have an ethical profession.”
Judge Armendariz said there are 167,000 attorneys in California and the bar gets 14,000 complaints on lawyers every year. Five-thousand of those complaints wind up as investigations and many of those investigations wind up as cases before her for possible disciplinary action. Judge Armendariz noted that any lawyer convicted of a felony faces automatic disciplinary action – usually a suspension pending further action. And many misdemeanors can result in discipline if they are crimes of moral turpitude, such as a DUI.
Some attorneys have drug, alcohol, or mental issues and the California Bar has an assistance program to help the lawyers overcome those problems.
The majority of cases Judge Armendariz hears are about attorney competence and violating duties to clients – such as not showing up in court for your client or not returning clients’ phone calls. She says these types of issues pile up the most on solo practitioners, but since there is no real monitoring system for attorneys, “a lot of attorneys get away with a lot of things every day.”
A bit of parting advice she had for the students who attended her presentation: “Return your clients phone calls, and account for all of your services.”