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Misconduct charges may be posted online

If State Bar prosecutors get their wish, any lawyer who faces formal disciplinary charges will have that information placed on his or her profile on the bar Web site. The board of governors sent out the proposal for public comment last month.

“This proposal would make what is already public more accessible,” said Chief Trial Counsel Scott Drexel. “It’s important to have this available to members of the public who are considering hiring an attorney.”

The State Bar Web site (Attorney Search) currently provides every member’s address, phone and fax number, undergraduate and law schools, membership status as well as any record of discipline. However, the discipline is recorded only after a case has been completed. Pending proceedings currently are not posted on the web.

Information about formal charges can be obtained, but it’s not easy. People wishing to obtain information about the nature of the charges must pay 50 cents per page for a copy of the Notice of Disciplinary Charges or for any related documents. Or they can make an appointment with the State Bar Court in either San Francisco or Los Angeles to review the file in person.

Drexel noted that although an NDC contains only allegations of misconduct, the vast majority of charges filed by the bar are proved. In 2007, culpability was found in 92 percent of charges filed by bar prosecutors; in 2007, it was 91 percent. Before charges are filed, the attorney has ample opportunity to deny or explain the matters in question, he added.

Nonetheless, Web site postings of NDCs would include a general notification that the charges do not constitute a finding of misconduct and the attorney is presumed innocent. In addition, the attorney’s response to the charges would be posted.

Should an attorney be exonerated or the matter dismissed, all reference to the discipline would be deleted.

The proposal can be found at Go to Public Comment in the right-hand menu. Comments can be submitted until June 30.

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