New York Standardizes Its Attorney Disciplinary Process

Written by Alexander J. Segal on

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Introduction

On December 30, 2015, the New York Office of Court Administration announced new rules for attorney discipline to create a “harmonized approach” throughout the state. The revised rules, which will become effective on July 1, 2016, are found in 22 NYCRR part 1240 [PDF version].

The primary purpose of the new rules is to standardize how attorney misconduct is investigated and punished throughout New York State. Under the old rules, which remain in effect until July 1, 2016, attorneys would often face different investigatory procedures and punishments depending on which Appellate Division department was handling the disciplinary investigation.

Description

Under the new rules, panels for each of New York's four Appellate Division departments will continue to investigate alleged attorney misconduct and review recommended sanctions. Furthermore, the Rules of Professional Misconduct found in 22 NYCRR part 1200 [PDF version] will continue to serve as the guide for determining whether specific conduct is permissible. However, the new rules will help ensure that common procedures are used to investigate attorney misconduct throughout the state, and that the punishment doled out for violations is consistent.

In announcing the changes, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman stated:

“Working to eliminate regional variations and leading to a more effective attorney discipline system over all, the new rules are a vital contribution to the fair administration of justice and the integrity of the legal profession throughout our state.”1

Under 22 NYCRR part 1240.7(c), the Chief Attorney investigating allegations of misconduct will be required provide a copy of the pending complaint to the respondent within 60 days of the receipt of the complaint.

22 NYCRR part 1240.11 creates standardized procedures for diverting certain attorneys with impairment stemming from alcohol or substance abuse, or other mental or physical issues, to monitoring programs.

My Thoughts on the New Attorney Discipline Procedures

These new rules in 22 NYCRR part 1240 are a positive step in standardizing attorney disciplinary procedures throughout New York. Because all New York attorneys are subject to the same rules of professional conduct, it never made sense, as a matter of policy or fairness, to have different disciplinary procedures and punishments in different parts of New York. It was certainly odd that two attorneys being investigated for the same alleged rule violations would be subject to different investigative procedures, and ultimately, different punishments if the misconduct was ultimately proven. While the changes are promising, it will bear watching the extent to which the new rules actually succeed in creating uniform attorney disciplinary procedures throughout New York.

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  1. Mueller, Benjamin, “New York State Standardizes Its Oversight of Lawyers,” New York Times, (Dec. 29, 2015)

Resources and Materials:

Mueller, Benjamin, “New York State Standardizes Its Oversight of Lawyers,” New York Times, (Dec. 29, 2015), http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/30/nyregion/new-york-state-standardizes-its-oversight-of-lawyers.html

Stashenko, Joel, “Attorney Discipline to Be 'Harmonized' in July, OCA Says,” New York Law Journal, (Dec. 30, 2015), http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202745929067/Attorney-Discipline-to-Be-Harmonized-in-July-OCA-Says?slreturn=20151130124500