The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of North Dakota was established in 1965 to provide a mechanism for investigating, evaluating, and acting upon complaints alleging unethical conduct by lawyers licensed in North Dakota. The Rules for Professional Conduct are the primary guide for assessing the lawyer’s conduct, while the North Dakota Rules for Lawyer Discipline provide the procedural framework for the handling of disposition of a complaint made against a lawyer.
By submitting a complaint, you are complaining that the lawyer’s actions were unethical and you are notifying the disciplinary authorities associated with the lawyer’s professional licensure about that conduct. The disciplinary process is very important. It is an aspect of the legal profession that is taken very seriously. However, you should be aware:
A complaint will not change the outcome of an existing case or its appeal. It is not a substitute for an appeal. Your complaint is not an action alleging the attorney committed malpractice. Do not wait for disciplinary action before taking any other legal action that may be necessary.
If you believe your lawyer’s actions were unethical, the process for submitting a complaint and for how your complaint will be handled is discussed below.
The Complaint Process
- Put your complaint in writing. To begin the complaint process, you must submit a complaint in writing. It should include a description of the lawyer’s conduct about which you are complaining, the names of witnesses, and copies of documents and other materials. It is very important that you are clear and complete so your complaint can be understood. If the information provided does not show that misconduct occurred, the complaint will be summarily dismissed without further review or investigation.
- What to include and where to send the complaint. Within your complaint, it is important for you to include your contact information so that any follow-up investigation can be completed. Please include your name, address, email address and telephone number. Once you have written your complaint and included your contact information, please sign and date the complaint and send it to:
Secretary of the Disciplinary Board
600 East Boulevard Avenue
Judicial Wing, First Floor
Bismarck, ND 58505
If you have questions about the process for submitting your complaint, you may call: 701.328.3925.
- Referral to an Inquiry Committee. After your complaint has been submitted, the complaint will be referred to the chair of the appropriate district inquiry committee. If the complaint is not summarily dismissed after review, an investigator will be assigned and you may be contact if additional information is needed.
- Lawyer’s Opportunity to Respond. After your complaint has been submitted, the lawyer will have a chance to see your complaint and respond to the allegations. The lawyer’s response to your allegations will also be considered by the inquiry committee. You will receive a copy of the lawyer’s response.
- Possible Appearance at Inquiry Committee. After any follow-up investigation has been completed, the appropriate district inquiry committee will review your complaint. You may have the opportunity to appear in person or via telephone in front of the committee to explain your complaint and to answer any follow-up questions that the committee may have about it. If the inquiry committee would like you to appear, you will receive an appearance letter in the mail from the Chair of the inquiry committee.
- Consideration by the Inquiry Committee. After the inquiry committee has completed any additional investigation and had any appearances, the committee will consider your complaint. The complaint process through the inquiry committee’s consideration is confidential. After deliberations, the inquiry committee may dismiss a complaint, issue an admonition and/or consent probation, refer a lawyer to the Lawyer Assistance Program, or direct for formal proceedings to be initiated. You will receive written notice of the Inquiry Committee’s action.
- Appeals. If you are unsatisfied with the decision of the Inquiry Committee, you may submit an appeal to the Disciplinary Board. The Disciplinary Board’s decision may then be appealed to the Supreme Court, but only with permission of the Court and a showing that the Board acted unreasonably, arbitrarily or capriciously.
- Formal Hearing. If the Inquiry Committee directs that formal proceedings be initiated against a lawyer, a three-member panel of the Disciplinary Board will hold a hearing. Witnesses may appear and evidence will be presented about the lawyer’s conduct. If formal proceedings are initiated based upon your complaint, you will be asked to appear as a witness during this hearing.
- Decision on Formal Hearing. The hearing panel may issue a reprimand and/or consent probation, dismiss the matter, or recommend to the Supreme Court that the lawyer be suspended or disbarred. The panel’s decision, except for its recommendation to the Supreme Court on suspension or disbarment, may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Please be aware that it may take several months from the time of the hearing for the hearing panel to issue its decision. You will receive written notice of the hearing panel’s decision once it has been made.
- Time and Notice. It may take several months to complete the investigation into your complaints and for the decision on it to be made. Some matters are complex and involve several witnesses, while others may be very simple. Because the inquiry committees and hearing panels consist of volunteers, progress may also depend on their availability and the times scheduled for the meetings. We take your complaints very seriously and will attempt to move the process along as quickly as possible.
If you have questions about the disciplinary process or the status of your complaint, you can contact the Office of Disciplinary Counsel at 701.328.3925 for more information.