Login | July 21, 2018

Disciplinary Board online, claims ‘coolness’ factor

Technology for Lawyers

Published: August 11, 2017

The docket of the Ohio Board of Professional Conduct, in the last of a three-part system upgrade, is now completely online.

“Our website was a part of the Ohio Supreme Court’s site,” said Richard A. Dove, the board’s director. “Now, we have our own site.”

The board’s press release states that this website is the first of its kind in the country, allowing the public and any interested parties to track a lawyer or judge’s disciplinary proceedings “in real time.”

Dove emphasizes that the parts of the disciplinary process that are confidential will remain confidential. The new website, he said, will only show public information.

For those unfamiliar with Ohio’s attorney discipline process, the following will function as a brief explainer, per the Office of Disciplinary Counsel information page.

Ohio has a bifurcated process for dealing with a grievance (complaint) filed against a judge or an attorney for violation of a rule of professional conduct. Some of the information is public, and some is not.

A complainant may file a grievance with one of two bodies: Either directly with the Ohio Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Counsel office, supervised by Dove, or with a local bar association’s certified grievance committee.

Every Ohio county bar association has a grievance committee. In addition, several larger cities have their own bar association and their own grievance committee (i.e. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County each have one).

Dove said that most, if not all, of the local grievance committees already allow complaints to be filed online.

However, hearings at the local bar association stage are confidential and nothing in this new access system will change that.

The grievance then moves through a system that starts in secret but in which the information eventually can be made public.

If either the local or state grievance committees determines that “substantial credible evidence of professional misconduct” exists, the committee drafts a formal complaint.

That complaint then moves to a probable cause panel of the Board of Professional Conduct, which determines whether or not there is probable cause that a violation has occurred.

If the panel determines that there is probable cause, the formal complaint becomes public and is filed with the Board of Professional Conduct.

It is at this point that the documents will appear on the Supreme Court’s website, said Dove. All prior proceedings will have been closed to public view until this point (although, through the years, various parties have complained that all of the processes should be public).

At that point, the board conducts hearings on the matter. If the board determines there has been a violation, it sends a recommendation to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

The Supreme Court of Ohio makes the final decision as to findings of misconduct, and issues an appropriate sanction.

Historically, the Supreme Court follows the board’s recommendations about half of the time, according to one study.

Results of the court’s decisions can range from dismissal to suspension to disbarment, in extreme cases.

The new website was a natural culmination of upgrades to the system that have taken place over time, said Dove, and the decision to database public access to the board’s decisions was a natural one.

The new site gives the public the ability to search for case information by party name or case number and to sort information by case number, date filed or case status.

If the board has filed a report and recommendation with the Supreme Court, the individual case docket will include the link to the Supreme Court’s online docket and, once the case is finalized, a link to the Supreme Court’s final disciplinary order.

The site now contains information about the status of cases pending before the board and the disposition of disciplinary cases filed since January 2015.

Cases filed before that date will have “general information” available without the actual case documents.

For cases currently pending before the board, the public will be able to view the complete case docket, see the status of the case and view and download case-related documents.

To cap off the development, the new website will open an e-filing portal for all parties in 2018.

The new site is available at https://supremecourt.ohio.gov/bpccm.