What to Expect During the Grievance Committee in Florida
Whenever lawyers are put on notice that they are being investigated through the Florida Bar Disciplinary Process, their case may proceed to the Grievance Committee for further investigation.
For many, the word “Grievance” does not make it sound like something good is about to happen. So, what is it and what should lawyers expect during the Grievance Committee in Florida?
When is the Grievance Committee Required?
Upon receiving the Bar Complaint Letter, which is basically an inquiry letter, a lawyer is being notified that the Florida Bar Disciplinary Process is ongoing. The written complaint can be filed by:
- The lawyer’s current or past client
- Opposing counsel
- Or any other interested party
In limited cases, the Florida Bar initiates the process on its own after hearing about an incident in the news. In that case, the Florida Bar can open a file without a complaining party.
After the written complaint has been filed either with or without a complaining party, the letter will be mailed to the attorney’s address. The claim requires a written response within 10 days. Upon request, Bar Counsel may grant an extension of the 10-day deadline.
After receiving the attorney’s response, Bar Counsel will review both the complaint letter and the response to determine whether the case should be (a) closed or (b) moved to the Grievance Committee for further investigation.
What Happens During the Grievance Committee?
The Florida Bar Grievance Committee is comprised of a group of at least three members who are both lawyers and non-lawyers volunteering their time to review complaints. Since the committee has to determine whether there is probable cause to proceed and file a formal complaint, it resembles the Grand Jury of the Bar process.
The attorney who is being the target of the investigation may have a lawyer represent him/her before the Grievance Committee and at all stages of the process. Bar Counsel will appoint an Investigating Member of the Committee during the proceeding to gather all the information on the case.
The information will be presented to the Committee either in writing or verbally to allow the Committee to vote on the outcome. All details disclosed before the Committee – by the attorney and the Florida Bar itself – are kept confidential until a finding of probable cause is made. In most Circuits in Florida, the Grievance Committee calls witnesses to hear live testimony.
What Are the Possible Outcomes of the Grievance Committee?
An attorney can expect two possible outcomes of the Grievance Committee:
- The finding of probable cause, including for minor misconduct
- The discovery of no probable cause
If the Committee did not find probable cause, the case would be closed. However, the Bar still has the authority to reopen the case for various reasons. If the probable cause was found, the Grievance Committee could recommend the appropriate discipline for the attorney if the incident involved an admonishment for minor misconduct or diversion.
The attorney does not have to accept the disciplinary sanction recommended by the Committee. The Grievance Committee does not have the authority to make any other recommendations. If neither an admonishment nor diversion applies, a finding of probable cause will result in the filing of a formal complaint in the Florida Supreme Court.
The formal Bar Complaint by Bar Counsel will specifically allege which rules have been violated by the lawyer. Contact our West Palm Beach bar complaints & grievances attorneys at Pike & Lustig, LLP, to discuss your case. Call at 561-291-8298.