The two most common comments regarding attorneys are:
1. They screw you monetarily and
2. They don't really fight for your cause.
In what appears to be an encouraging sign of more effective attorney oversight in 2011, the state Supreme Court issued an order suspending a Cranston lawyer's law license for two years after he pleaded no contest to assault and trespassing in a 2009 incident. The order gave the attorney 30 days to transfer any current cases to other lawyers before the suspension takes effect. Though the charges didn't involve the attorney's performance as a lawyer, the high court said "it is of no moment that his crimes are unrelated to his practice of law, as we expect all members of the bar to comport themselves in accordance with the criminal laws of this state." "We believe that an order of suspension of the attorney's privilege to practice law in this state is required to maintain the integrity of the bar," the order said. "However, we also believe that with proper counseling and treatment for his alcohol abuse the respondent may be able, at some point in the future, to return to the practice of law."
To their credit, the commission has disciplined many attorneys over the last several years. However, the common denominator in most of these actions was misconduct involving money. The Disciplinary Board has stated time and again that the following IS NOT attorney misconduct:
..all the other rules which are to regulate attorney conduct appear irrelevant and unimportant to the Disciplinary Board. Note, the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline appears to have the same myopic view of misconduct.
Ten attorneys in Rhode Island were slapped with serious disciplinary action in 2008 by the state Supreme Court. It is a big surge from previous years and a majority of those disciplined have one thing in common - they practice in the same area of law - real estate. Eyewitness 12 News Legal Analyst Lou Pulner said the rise in disciplined lawyers can be traced back to the bad economy. He said a handful of lawyers have been tempted to dip into their clients' escrow accounts.
"The money in escrow belongs to your clients and it does not belong to you," Pulner said. So what about protection for clients? The Target 12 Investigators have learned Rhode Island lags behind much of the country when it comes to finding out if a lawyer has been disciplined or suspended. The state is one of only 15 that doesn't offer an online search. [Caught note: this website has been offering this search for 13 years now. Given the unavailability of records our lists remain incomplete] A court spokesman said it will be at least 3 years before the state gets up to speed. In the meantime, he said people can call his office to check at 401-222-3270. It is unknown if the information available at this number speaks only of those where actions are active or if past or closed actions are also mentioned.
Now some perspective:
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel investigated 301 complaints in 2001. An additional 95 written complaints were not opened for formal investigation as the complaints did not fall within the office's jurisdiction and/or allege a violation of the applicable rules. The office also received 61 notices of overdrafts on attorney trust accounts which is considered an ethical red flag. [this data was taken, in part, from the Rhode Island Supreme Court Disciplinary Board website]. It is safe to assume the same numbers of complaints come in every year. It is even safer to assume the complaints have increased. Given these 2001 numbers note the following attorney suspension or disbarments:
So out of all complaints received in a given year, about 1% have actually committed misconduct prior to the 2008 figure? And how many complaints were filed in 2008 so we can know if there really has been an increase in disciplinary actions? Note the 2008 figure was called a "big surge" in the media. What 'we the people' believe is these figures show a lack of truly effective disciplinary action in our legal system. While we applaud any progress, we believe the 'progress' is shallow because, once again, the misconduct was monetarily based, blatantly criminal, and could not be ignored without the system appearing to have a total callous disregard for the rule of law. In perspective, this 2008 "big surge" in disciplinary action could NOT have been ignored given the glaring nature of the criminal acts and legal misconduct. "When we become aware an attorney is involved in serious misconduct that becomes our primary goal, to shut them down as soon as possible," David Curtin said. SERIOUS misconduct Mr. Curtin? How about disciplining them for MISCONDUCT - serious or not?
The Supreme Court Disciplinary Board gives credence to the old saying, "Lawyers have a license to lie" by their handling of this complaint. This complaint also shows how shallow the Supreme Court "oversight" can be. Also see this complaint where the disciplinary board says lying to clients is considered in the "grey area."
This action is presented for educational purposes and doesn't involve wrongdoing on the Commission's part. See this unusual 1999 disciplinary action and the reasoning involved against an Attorney for having a sexual relationship with a client.
Check out the complaint by Danny Brown and you will see how impossible it is to get anyone in Rhode Island to correct or discipline prosecutorial misconduct.
Check out the complaint about Atty Gregory Acciardo. This attorney is allowed to practice law pending an appeal after being convicted of a felony.