First-time and/or relatively non-serious ethical violations usually result in the imposition of private discipline, of which there are three forms: (1) an informal admonition imposed by the ODC without a hearing; (2) a formal admonition imposed by the Disciplinary Board following hearing proceedings; or (3) a private reprimand imposed by the Disciplinary Board following hearing proceedings. Because a private admonition and private reprimand are imposed by the full Disciplinary Board, it is considered a more serious sanction than an informal admonition.
The identity of a privately-disciplined attorney cannot be revealed by the Disciplinary Board or the ODC. However, disciplinary sanctions are cumulative, and the imposition of an admonition or reprimand in one case can be used against the attorney as an aggravating factor should he or she be found guilty of an ethical violation in the future. The previously private admonition or reprimand can then become public.
summaries of private informal admonitions This needs to be updated
Past summaries of private informal admonitions appear in the Hawai`i Bar Journal. The summaries provide guidance regarding the type of unprofessional conduct which may result in an informal admonition. Please note, however, that an array of factors are considered in each case, including mitigating factors such as lack of prejudice to the client. The summaries are thus not binding precedent but examples of specific factual situations which led to an informal admonition by the ODC.
1993 (April 1994)
1994 (September 1995)
1996 (July 1997)
2002 (July 2003)
2004 (July 2005)
2006 (July 2007)
2007 (September 2008)
Under the Supreme Court Rules, ODC cannot reveal an attorney's non-public disciplinary history. Thus, ODC can not confirm or verify (1) that no complaints have ever been filed against an attorney or (2) that any complaints have been dismissed. ODC may only reveal whether an attorney has been publicly disciplined.
In addition to its authority to impose a private reprimand, the Disciplinary Board may, in more serious cases, sanction an attorney with a public reprimand -- with the consent of ODC and the respondent. Other recommendations for public discipline such as public censure, suspension and disbarment must be imposed by the Hawai`i Supreme Court.
Attorneys who have been disbarred or suspended may petition for reinstatement, but may not practice law until reinstated by Supreme Court Order.
Attorneys Suspended for One Year or Less
An attorney suspended for one year or less may be reinstated upon filing an affidavit with the Supreme Court. This affidavit must recite complete compliance with all conditions imposed by suspension order including payment of fees, costs, and reimbursements (if any) to the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, plus interest and completion of any ethical requirements such as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE).
Disbarred Attorneys and Attorneys Suspended for More than One Year
A disbarred attorney may not apply for reinstatement before five years have elapsed from the effective date of the disbarment. An attorney suspended for more than one year may not apply for reinstatement until at least one-half of the period of suspension has elapsed. No suspended or disbarred attorney is eligible for reinstatement unless he or she has reimbursed the Disciplinary Board for all costs ordered and the Lawyers' Fund for claims, if any, plus interest and fulfilled all requirements of the Supreme Court's suspension order.
The disbarred or suspended attorney must file a petition for reinstatement with the Disciplinary Board and serve it upon ODC. The petition for reinstatement must show that the petitioner has complied with all requirements of the order of disbarment or suspension, complied with all rules, that he or she is qualified to practice law in this State and is worthy of the Court's trust and confidence.
AUDITS FOR CAUSE
ODC may ask the Chairperson of the Disciplinary Board to order an audit of trust accounts maintained by an attorney where any of the following has occurred: (1) the attorney has failed to file the requisite trust account verification required under HRPC 1.15; (2) an attorney's trust account check is returned for insufficient funds or for uncollected funds and cannot be satisfactorily explained; (3) a petition for creditor relief is filed on behalf of an attorney; (4) felony charges are filed against an attorney; (5) an attorney is alleged to be incapacitated or has been judicially declared incompetent or involuntarily committed due to incompetence or disability; (6) a claim against an attorney is filed with the Lawyers' Fund; (7) an audit is ordered by a court; or (8) where other good and sufficient reasons for an audit are determined to exist by ODC, a hearing committee or officer, or the Disciplinary Board. The Disciplinary Board may also randomly order audits of trust accounts.
Audit of Non-Trust Records
An attorney's non-trust financial accounts may also be examined if a review of the trust accounts reveals to the satisfaction of the Chairperson of the Disciplinary Board that the attorney is not in substantial compliance with trust accounting requirements.
Cost of Audit
The cost of audit is borne by the attorney if the audit reveals that he or she was not in substantial compliance with trust accounting requirements.