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The Grievance Process
Rules and Steps to Follow in the Grievance Process
The Grievance Commission
The Grievance Commission consists of five geographically distributed panels each composed of two lawyers and one lay member. Bar Counsel (attorneys employed at the Board of Overseers of the Bar) investigate and, when directed by the Grievance Commission, prosecute complaints alleging misconduct.
The grievance process starts with a written complaint made by a client, another lawyer, a judge, or a third party. The person making the complaint is the complainant. The lawyer involved is the respondent. A complaint must be in writing and signed by the complainant and may be submitted on a form obtained from the office of the Board of Overseers or at our web site at www.mebaroverseers.org. Complaints sent by email will not be accepted. If you are the complainant, you should provide a concise but detailed written summary of the nature of the complaint on the form provided. The complaint should be legibly printed or typewritten. Please include any documents you believe are relevant to your complaint. Bar Counsel may ask you to provide additional information. You should know that the Maine Bar Rules require that all the information you provide to Bar Counsel and the Board of Overseers must be shared with the respondent so that the respondent has an opportunity to answer the allegations. You should be aware that the grievance complaint process deals only with ethical violations by lawyers. Not all complaints about a lawyer involve violations of the Rules. When you are informed of the disposition of your complaint, you will be informed whether or not your complaint does involve a violation of the Rules. If it does not and you still wish to pursue it, you will have to obtain independent advice about the best method and/or forum to do that. Complaints about fees charged by your lawyer should be directed to the Fee Arbitration Commission at the office of the Board of Overseers of the Bar.
Bar Counsel review each signed and completed complaint to determine whether the conduct alleged, if proven true, could be a violation of the Rules. If the complaint does not allege conduct that would violate the Rules, Bar Counsel will issue a letter of dismissal to the complainant stating a brief reason for that dismissal. A copy of the letter of dismissal will be sent to the respondent. If such a dismissal occurs, the complainant has the right to request that Bar Counsel's dismissal be reviewed. Reviews should be requested within 14 days of the notification of the dismissal. Reviews are done by a lay member of either the Board or the Grievance Commission. If the lay member approves the dismissal, the complainant and respondent will be informed, and the matter remains dismissed. If the lay member determines that the conduct alleged, if proven true, could be a violation of the Rules, the complaint will be returned to Bar Counsel for further investigation, and the complainant and the respondent will be notified. Bar Counsel will investigate all complaints that allege conduct that, if proven true, could be a violation of the Rules. Bar Counsel will send the respondent a copy of the complaint. The respondent must respond in writing to Bar Counsel. Bar Counsel may send a copy of the respondent's answer to the complainant to allow for additional written comment or documentation from the complainant. Bar Counsel will submit any additional material from the complainant to the respondent for review.
The Review Panel
Once an investigation is complete, Bar Counsel will present the complaint, response, and other relevant information to a panel of the Grievance Commission that will act as a Review Panel. Bar Counsel will recommend to the Review Panel that the complaint be either: dismissed, dismissed with a warning, or referred for a hearing. Neither the complainant nor the respondent is present or participates at this review. Although the Review Panel is provided with Bar Counsel's recommendation, the panel makes an independent decision after evaluating the complaint. Bar Counsel then notifies the complainant and respondent in writing of the Review Panel's decision. If the decision is to dismiss or to dismiss with a warning to the respondent, the letter will briefly state the reasons for such action. If the decision is to refer the complaint for a hearing, that hearing will be open to the public. The Review Panel's choices are described as follows:
Up to this point in the processing of a grievance complaint, all information about it is required to be kept confidential by the Board, the Grievance Commission, and Bar Counsel. In cases where a disciplinary petition is filed and a hearing held, as described below, the petition, answer, and the hearing will be open to the public.
Disciplinary Hearing and Decision
If the Review Panel refers the case to a disciplinary hearing open to the public, Bar Counsel will prepare and file a document called a petition. The petitioner will be the Board of Overseers, not the complainant. The petition sets forth the facts of the case, alleges specific violation(s) of the Rules, and asks for an appropriate disposition. The petition is served on the respondent. The case is then assigned to a Hearing Panel (different from the Review Panel) of the Grievance Commission to hear evidence. The complainant and the respondent will be notified in advance of the date of the hearing. The complainant and respondent should be prepared to testify under oath at the hearing. Witnesses may be subpoenaed or legally compelled to appear and testify at the hearing. Disciplinary hearings are conducted in a manner very similar to a civil trial. All witnesses are sworn. Bar Counsel presents the Board's case to a Hearing Panel with the respondent having the right to cross-examine all of the Board's witnesses. The respondent then presents his or her case to the panel, and Bar Counsel cross-examines the respondent's witnesses. After all the evidence is received by the panel, the public part of the hearing is concluded and the panel confidentially deliberates. Typically, the panel will issue a written decision two to four weeks after the hearing. Bar Counsel will then promptly notify the complainant and respondent of the Hearing Panel's decision. These decisions are available to the public upon request and, if discipline is imposed, will be published by the Board on its web site upon becoming final. The Hearing Panel will make one of the following dispositions:
Legal Services and Advice
The Board of Overseers of the Bar, Bar Counsel, and the Grievance Commission cannot provide legal services or advice. Bar Counsel represents the Board of Overseers, not the complainant or respondent.
All services and expenses of the Board of Overseers and Grievance Commission are provided without any financial cost to complainants.
In the absence of malice, a complainant is immune from civil liability based on the filing of a grievance complaint.
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