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      Complaint Resolution Program

      Complaint Resolution Program FAQ | Complaint Resolution Guidelines

      An alternative method for the resolution of lawyer disciplinary complaints

      The public should expect lawyers to be competent, diligent, and prompt in their capacity as professionals. Lawyers who do not meet this expectation may be in violation of Missouri's Rules of Professional Conduct, enforced under the authority of the Supreme Court of Missouri. The Rules set the legal profession's standards for ethical, professional behavior.

      Clients or other lawyers who believe a lawyer has behaved unethically or unprofessionally should file a complaint with the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Missouri. That office will review the complaint, then determine whether it may be best resolved in a meeting with the parties and a third party neutral to assist them to resolve the complaint, or if more formal disciplinary proceedings are appropriate.

      If the complaint alleges a severe breach of duty, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel will start an investigation. If the charges are proven true, the lawyer will face a range of disciplinary actions.

      If the alleged violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct is less serious, but, nevertheless, an area of concern - perhaps involving poor service or communications problems the Chief Disciplinary Counsel may refer the complaint to The Missouri Bar Complaint Resolution Program. Complaints involving lawyers who have a history of grievances being filed against them, although less serious in nature, will remain in the formal disciplinary system. 

       

      Complaint Resolution Program FAQ

      What is the Complaint Resolution Program?

      The Missouri Bar sponsors this program to provide the public and the legal profession a system to work together to ensure that clients receive quality service. The program assists with the resolution of complaints about lawyers that the Chief Disciplinary Counsel has determined may best be resolved outside the formal disciplinary system.

      Through this program, clients and lawyers are provided an opportunity to meet, be heard, and attempt to resolve the issue in a conference or meeting. All proceedings within the program are confidential.

      The Complaint Resolution Program is authorized by Supreme Court of Missouri.

      Who Benefits From the Complaint Resolution Program?

      Clients and lawyers alike benefit from the services of this program. For clients, the program provides an opportunity to participate in the process to achieve a speedy and meaningful remedy to complaints. Previously, clients who filed complaints had no choice other than the formal discipline system. Lawyers benefit from a quicker resolution and have a chance to actively participate in the process of resolving the complaint against them.

      Who Oversees the Complaint Resolution Program?

      A five member committee appointed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors oversees the program. A Missouri Bar staff member administers the day-to-day activities.

      What is the Cost to Use This Program?

      There is no cost to either party to use the services of this program to resolve complaints. Funding for the program is provided by The Missouri Bar with assistance from The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company.

      How Are Disputes Resolved?

      The lawyer and client meet with a volunteer panel member who will assist them to voice their concerns, explore alternatives to resolve the dispute, and aid them in reaching an agreement or resolution. The process is typically informal. The panel member will not decide the matter - the parties themselves work toward a mutually agreeable resolution with the assistance of the panel member. The parties must come to the meeting with a willingness to act in good faith to resolve the complaint. However, no one will be coerced into accepting any agreement or resolution with which they are not comfortable.

      If appropriate, the lawyer respondents may be referred to programs to assist them with practice management or other issues in order to avoid repeating the circumstances that raised the complaint. Clients may also be informed about issues relating generally to the legal system to help clear up any misunderstanding, or they may be referred to other sources. The panel member will not act in the capacity of a lawyer or give specific legal advice while assigned to the matter.

      Who Are The Voluntary Panel Members?

      The panel members are volunteer lawyers from throughout the state who generously donate their time to this public service program. They are appointed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors. The panel members are trained specifically to handle these types of matters. The panel members will remain neutral - they will not take the side of either party, but they are there to assist the parties.

      Do I Need a Lawyer to Use This Program?

      The process is very informal, thus it is not necessary to have a lawyer represent you. All parties, however, have the right to be represented by a lawyer at the meeting at their expense. The panel member establishes the ground rules for the meeting and ensures that both parties are heard equally and that no one party overpowers the meeting.

      How are Complaints Filed in This Program?

      All complaints about lawyer disciplinary matters must be filed with The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. The Chief Disciplinary Counsel is appointed by the Supreme Court of Missouri to handle ethical complaints about lawyers. Only the Chief Disciplinary Counsel has the authority to investigate and refer complaints that may be best resolved outside of the traditional disciplinary system to The Missouri Bar Complaint Resolution Program.

      Complaints about lawyers should be made in writing detailing the complaint and mailed to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, 3327 American Avenue, Jefferson City, MO 65109.

      Cases may be referred to the Complaint Resolution Program by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel only after they have been thoroughly screened and reviewed.

      What Happens When the Complaint is Referred to the Program?

      After the complaint is referred, the program administrator at The Missouri Bar will open an active file and ask both parties to sign a form voluntarily agreeing to participate in a meeting to attempt to resolve the matter. The lawyer is asked to formally respond to the complaint. When the response from the lawyer and the consent forms are received, the matter is assigned to a panel member and the meeting is scheduled as quickly as possible.

      The meeting will be scheduled at a time convenient for both parties. The panel member will not serve as a judge, but will assist the parties to reach an agreement or understanding. Following the meeting, the panel member will verify that any performance required in the agreement has been completed. The file will then be returned to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel with a report. The matter is then closed.

      Where Will the Meeting be Held?

      The meetings are held in a location that is as convenient as possible to both parties, usually in your town or city. The panel members travel to the location.

      What if the Lawyer Does Not Agree to Participate?

      If the lawyer does not respond or does not agree to participate in the meeting, or more serious misconduct is revealed, the file will be returned to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel who will determine if the complaint should be handled in the formal disciplinary process.

      What if the Complainant Does Not Agree to Participate?

      If the complainant does not wish to participate in the meeting, the file will be closed and returned to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for whatever action, if any, is appropriate.

      Who Do I Contact For More Information?

      The Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel
      3327 American Avenue
      Jefferson City, MO 65109
      (573) 635-7400

      or

      The Missouri Bar
      P.O. Box 119
      Jefferson City, MO 65102
      (573) 635-4128
      mobar@mobar.org  

      Complaint Resolution Guidelines

      Pursuant to Rule 5.10, the chief disciplinary counsel's office will refer to the complaint resolution program those complaints it believes may be resolved through an alternative resolution process rather than through formal disciplinary proceedings.  Such complaints shall be processed as provided by these guidelines.

      The complaint resolution program shall be administered by a five-person complaint resolution committee that will oversee the activities and proceedings in the program.  The complaint resolution committee shall be appointed by The Missouri Bar Board of Governors, with the chair designated by the president of The Missouri Bar.  The terms of the complaint resolution committee appointees shall be for four years.  No committee member shall be requested to serve more than two successive terms.

      The panel of volunteers serving the program will be referred to as facilitators.  Terms of the facilitators shall be for four years.  Facilitators may be reappointed to successive terms provided they agree to serve.  Lawyers will be nominated to serve as facilitators by the complaint resolution committee, which will forward names to the board of governors for consideration for appointment to the complaint resolution program.

      The complaint resolution administrator shall have the duties of maintaining all files received; assignment of facilitators; giving notices; making arrangements for all conferences; record keeping; compiling of reports to The Missouri Bar and chief disciplinary counsel; and handling administrative tasks.  The complaint resolution administrator shall be designated by the executive director of The Missouri Bar.

      The chief disciplinary counsel will first determine whether the complaint appears appropriate for referral to the complaint resolution program.  After a complaint is referred to the complaint resolution program, the lawyer respondent will be asked to file a written answer and give written consent to participate in a resolution conference with a facilitator and the person bringing the complaint.  Once the answer and consent are received from the lawyer respondent and the person bringing the complaint has signed a written consent, the complaint resolution program chair or complaint resolution administrator will assign the matter to a facilitator who may solicit further information from the parties and hold a mediation-like conference.  Following the conference, the facilitator will prepare an appropriate report to be returned to the complaint resolution program administrator for review by the complaint resolution committee chair, which will be forwarded to the chief disciplinary counsel's office.  If the respondent lawyer does not participate, or if there is new information revealed whereby it appears that the respondent has engaged in serious misconduct, the complaint resolution committee shall return the matter to the chief disciplinary counsel.  If the complainant does not participate, the complaint resolution committee will refer the complaint back to the chief disciplinary counsel noting such.

      The goal of this program is to assist the chief disciplinary counsel in the resolution of grievances and to assure the public and the legal profession that such grievances can be resolved in a just fashion and in accordance with the participation and reasonable expectations of all parties.

      In order to keep The Missouri Bar apprised of the complaint resolution program's work, the complaint resolution program will make semi-annual and annual reports to the board of governors concerning the progress of the complaint resolution program.

      Panel Procedures

      1.  The first step in the process is the referral of the complaint to the complaint resolution program.  After the chief disciplinary counsel has determined that the complaint is appropriate for referral, the chief disciplinary counsel or designee will send a letter to the complainant and the respondent advising them that the matter is being forwarded to the complaint resolution program.  The chief disciplinary counsel will send to the complaint resolution administrator the chief disciplinary counsel file to the extent that the same relates to the complaint against this lawyer, including the complaint and the letter advising the parties of the reference to the complaint resolution program.

      2.  After receiving the file, the complaint resolution administrator will set up the complaint resolution program file.  The complaint resolution administrator will assign a chronological docket number to the matter using as a prefix the year the file was received.  The complaint resolution administrator will prepare a manual index for each matter.  The complaint resolution administrator will also maintain a computerized record of each matter, which will contain the same information as on the manual index.

      3.  The complaint resolution administrator will set up a confidential file for each matter, which will contain the original documents submitted to the complaint resolution program by the chief disciplinary counsel, the complainant, the respondent lawyer or third parties.  This file will remain at all times under the custody of the complaint resolution program.  The matter file and the manual index will all be prominently marked "confidential," and the computerized docket will be password protected.  The complaint resolution administrator will take all reasonable steps to maintain such confidentiality.  Absent an order from the Supreme Court of Missouri, the only persons who shall have access to the confidential files of the complaint resolution program are the complaint resolution committee, the complaint resolution administrator, the complaint resolution program secretary, members of staff of the chief disciplinary counsel, personnel authorized by the Supreme Court of Missouri, and, except as to internal memoranda, the complainant and respondent lawyer and their respective counsel, if any.

      4.  Promptly after receipt of the file from the chief disciplinary counsel, the complaint resolution administrator will send a letter to the respondent lawyer with a copy to the complainant notifying the respondent of the receipt of the file from the chief disciplinary counsel and requesting a written response to the complaint within twenty days.  In addition, both parties will be asked to sign an agreement form developed by the complaint resolution program committing to voluntarily participate in the complaint resolution conference.  All written communications from the complaint resolution program to the parties shall bear the legend, "ALL PROCEEDINGS OF THE COMPLAINT RESOLUTION PROGRAM ARE CONFIDENTIAL, AND ANY UNAUTHORIZED DISCLOSURE RELATING THERETO IS PROHIBITED BY LAW."  In addition, all envelopes should be marked "PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL."

      5.  If the complaint resolution committee does not receive a reply from the respondent, the complaint resolution administrator will send a second letter advising the respondent that failure to respond within ten days will result in the case being returned to the chief disciplinary counsel.

      6.  If the respondent does not answer after an additional ten days, or if the respondent does not sign the form consenting to participate in a resolution conference, the complaint resolution administrator will return the file, after the matter is reviewed by the complaint resolution program chair, to the chief disciplinary counsel, with a closing memorandum.  The complaint resolution administrator will send a letter to the respondent, with a copy to the complainant, advising the respondent that the matter has been returned to the chief disciplinary counsel and enclose a copy of the closing memorandum.  The appropriate notation will be made in the complaint resolution program records.

      7.  If the complainant does not agree to participate in the resolution conference by returning the signed consent form, a second notice will be sent giving the complainant an additional ten days to respond.  If the complainant does not respond to the second notice, the complaint resolution committee chair will review the matter before returning it to the office of chief disciplinary counsel with an appropriate recommendation.  The complaint resolution administrator will send a letter to the complainant, with a copy to the respondent, advising the complainant that the matter has been returned to the chief disciplinary counsel and enclose a copy of the closing memorandum.  The appropriate notation will be made in the complaint resolution program records.

      8.  If the respondent files a response and both parties agree in writing to participate in the resolution conference, the complaint resolution administrator will assign the matter to a facilitator.  Facilitator assignments will be made on a rotating basis, by geographic location.  Facilitators will keep the complaint resolution administrator informed if they expect to be unavailable for any extended period of time.

      9.  Before determining the facilitator's availability to serve, the complaint resolution administrator shall advise the facilitator of the identities of the complainant and respondent lawyer in order to determine the possibility of conflicts of interest between the facilitator and the parties.  The facilitator should attempt to determine whether members of the facilitator's firm or organization have an adversarial relationship with either party.  In doing so, the facilitator should keep in mind that the complaint resolution process is confidential, and any inquiries concerning conflicts should be made discreetly.  If the facilitator does not believe that he or she can serve as an impartial neutral, the complaint resolution administrator should be advised to assign the matter to another facilitator.  Additionally, prior to the start of the conference process, either party may timely object by giving notice to the complaint resolution administrator, within ten days of the receipt of notification of the name of the assigned facilitator, and exercise a peremptory challenge to the person serving as the facilitator for good cause, at which time the facilitator must be excused.  A new facilitator must be assigned to the case.  Only one such challenge shall be allowed to each party.

      10.  Once the facilitator has decided that he or she can serve, the facilitator and the complaint resolution administrator will set a date for the conference within a period from 20 to 40 days after the date of the facilitator's assignment to the matter and coordinate the location of the conference.  If the prospective facilitator is unavailable during this interval, the complaint resolution administrator will choose another facilitator in consultation with the complaint resolution program chair.

      11.  The complaint resolution administrator will send a letter to the facilitator, confirming the facilitator's assignment to the matter, enclosing a copy of the complaint, the response, the consent forms, and the notice of the complaint resolution conference, setting forth the proposed conference date, time, and location.  The complaint resolution administrator will send a copy of this letter together with a copy of the complaint and the response to the complainant and the respondent.  This letter and all other communications between the complaint resolution program and facilitator will bear the legend: "PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL: TO BE OPENED BY ADDRESSEE ONLY."

      12.  The conference may be held at a private conference room in the facilitator's offices, at The Missouri Bar Center, or at another convenient location chosen by the facilitator.  Conferences will be held in circumstances that assure confidentiality.  The complaint resolution administrator will make arrangements for the use of the facilities for the conference.  The facilitator should determine, prior to the conference, whether there are any documents, witnesses or information that the parties should bring to the conference that would assist the process.  The complaint resolution administrator will schedule all conferences and send a notice of the complaint resolution conference to the parties; this notice will contain the date, time and place of the conference.  The facilitator should advise the parties to forward all documentary evidence to the facilitator five days prior to the conference date.

      13.  The complaint resolution administrator will consult with the facilitator about requests to postpone a scheduled conference or requests for adjournment.  The facilitator shall consider and decide all requests for adjournments, but adjournments should be granted sparingly.  In no event should the conference be adjourned more than 75 days after the complaint resolution program has referred it to the facilitator.  If the respondent does not appear, the facilitator will refer the matter back to the complaint resolution program, which will in turn refer it back to the chief disciplinary counsel after a review by the complaint resolution committee chair.  If the complainant does not appear, the facilitator will refer the matter back to the complaint resolution program for referral to the chief disciplinary counsel after a review by the complaint resolution committee chair.

      14.  The facilitator may recommend, after consultation with the complaint resolution committee, that the matter be disposed of without a conference.  Although the complaint resolution committee may review such recommendation and consent to it, the complaint resolution program discourages such dispositions.  However, if the complaint resolution committee agrees to such a decision, the complaint resolution committee will prepare a closing memorandum setting forth the reasons for this decision and will return it with the file to the complaint resolution administrator.  The complaint resolution committee chair will send a letter to the complainant, with a copy to the respondent, advising of the disposition and enclosing a copy of the closing memorandum.  The complaint resolution administrator will return the file with the closing memorandum to the chief disciplinary counsel and will make an appropriate notation in the complaint resolution programs records.

      15.  The facilitator will conduct the conference informally.  At the outset, the facilitator should make clear to the parties that the facilitator is not serving as a judge.  The facilitator's role is to promote communication and suggest ways of resolving the dispute; the facilitator is not to impose a settlement on the parties.  The facilitator shall make every effort to hear all the relevant facts, review all the documents, be familiar with any controlling relevant legal principles, and seek to bring about an acceptable resolution between the parties.  The facilitator should refrain from using legal terminology that may not be understandable to the complainant.  The facilitator should advise the lawyer respondent before the conference begins that the facilitator must report any serious ethical violations as outlined under Supreme Court Rule 4-8.3.  If notes are taken by the facilitator during the conference, they should be either destroyed immediately thereafter or returned in a marked sealed envelope to the complaint resolution administrator's office to be stored in a secure location for five years.  The facilitator should make sure that any proposal offered for resolution of the matter is clearly understood by the parties, perceived to be fair, and freely entered into by the parties.  If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the facilitator should return the matter to the compliant resolution administrator with the instructions that it be forwarded to the chief disciplinary counsel.

      16.  The facilitator should have the parties sign an agreement setting forth the terms of the resolution of the complaint.  The facilitator should keep in mind that performance of the agreement should take place within a reasonably short time after the conference so that the complaint resolution program is able to close the file.  The facilitator should advise the parties that they may contact the facilitator if they have any difficulty enforcing the agreement.  However, if one of the parties refuses to abide by the agreement, the matter should be returned to the complaint resolution program so that it may be referred back to the chief disciplinary counsel.

      In accordance with Supreme Court Rule 4 -1.8(h), the lawyer respondent shall not make an agreement in the conference that limits the lawyer respondent's liability to the complainant for malpractice unless permitted by law and the complainant is independently represented in making the agreement, or settle a claim for such liability with un-represented client or former client without first advising that person in writing that independent representation is appropriate.

      17.  At any time, the facilitator may refer the complaint back to the complaint resolution program for review by the committee if the respondent will not participate in the complaint resolution program or if the facilitator believes that the respondent has engaged in misconduct warranting proceedings pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 5.  Following the committee's review, the complaint will be referred back to the office of chief disciplinary counsel.

      18.  At the conclusion of the conference, or if the matter is closed prior to the conference, the facilitator will prepare a brief report reflecting the disposition of the matter, which will promptly be sent to the complaint resolution administrator.  The complaint resolution administrator will prepare the closing memorandum reflecting the resolution reached, if any, along with a copy of the signed resolution or comments from the facilitators if a resolution was not reached, which will be forwarded to the complaint resolution committee chair for a final review.  The complaint resolution committee chair will review and sign the closing memorandum and return it to the complaint resolution administrator within ten days.  The complaint resolution administrator will close the file and forward the closing memorandum, resolution agreement, if any, or the report from the facilitator, and lawyer respondent's response to the chief disciplinary counsel.  The complaint resolution administrator will then forward a copy of the closing memorandum, appropriate disposition letter, and agreement to the person bringing the complaint and respondent.

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