Hawaii Attorney Disciplinary Process
Attorney Misconduct Complaint Investigations
The ODC was created in 1974 by the Hawai`i Supreme Court to conduct investigations and prosecute complaints that a Hawai`i lawyer has violated the HRPC. In addition, the ODC provides general guidance to Hawai`i licensed attorneys. The Disciplinary Board’s goal is fair, impartial, and vigorous enforcement of the HRPC to protect the public, including clients, the courts, and the legal profession.
The operations of the Hawai`i lawyer discipline system are funded entirely by annual registration fees paid by Hawai`i lawyers. Ethics investigations are conducted without charge to any complaining party.
Types of Sanctions
PRIVATE DISCIPLINE: INFORMAL ADMONITION, FORMAL ADMONITION OR REPRIMAND
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 is imposed by the ODC without a hearing; (2) a formal admonition imposed by the Disciplinary Board following hearing proceedings; or (3) a private reprimand is 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.
Under the Supreme Court Rules ODC cannot reveal an attorneys non-public disciplinary history. Thus, ODC can not state (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 ever 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 disbarment, suspension, censure or reprimand must be submitted by the Disciplinary Board to the 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 subject to a pending disciplinary investigation or formal proceeding may resign in lieu of discipline or consent to disbarment by delivering to the Board an affidavit complying with RSCH 2.14(a). The affidavit must include a factual description of the grounds for discipline. The Chairperson of the Disciplinary Board must first review the respondent's affidavit to determine whether it is in proper form. If it is, ODC initiates proceedings in the Supreme Court by filing a petition for resignation in lieu of discipline or a motion for disbarment by consent. The respondent's affidavit is attached to the petition or motion. Because the respondent has consented to the resignation or disbarment, the Supreme Court issues an order granting the resignation or disbarment by consent without awaiting a response from the respondent.
A hearing on a complaint is held only if a formal disciplinary proceeding has begun.
When a formal disciplinary hearing takes place, a three-member hearing committee or officer appointed by the Chairperson of the Disciplinary Board (but not consisting of Board members) convenes to take evidence. The procedure is similar to a civil trial. The complaining party may be called as a witness. Testimony is given under oath, and documentary exhibits are submitted. A full and official record is kept of the proceedings.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the hearing committees, the Disciplinary Board and the Supreme Court use the "ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Discipline" as guidelines to determine the appropriate level of discipline in a case. Click here to see the "ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Discipline."
REVIEW BY DISCIPLINARY BOARD
Upon completion of a formal disciplinary hearing, a written report is prepared by the hearing committee or officer for review by the Disciplinary Board. The hearing committee or officer cannot impose discipline bur rather makes disciplinary sanction recommendations to the Disciplinary Board.
The Disciplinary Board, on review of the hearing committee/officer’s report, may follow the recommendations of the report, or may elect lesser or more severe sanctions. The Disciplinary Board can impose a formal admonition, or a private or public reprimand upon the attorney with the consent of the respondent, in which event the case ends. Like an admonition, a reprimand remains on the attorney's record and may be taken into account should a future HRPC Rule violation occur. If the Disciplinary Board determines that a more severe sanction is warranted, it will make its recommendations. The record including and those recommendations, along with the hearing committee/officer’s report, is forwarded to the Supreme Court for final determination.
REVIEW BY SUPREME COURT
Where the Disciplinary Board recommends public discipline beyond a public reprimand, such as public censure, suspension or disbarment, the case must be submitted to the Supreme Court for final decision (an attorney or ODC can also appeal to the Supreme Court if he or she disagrees with the imposition of a private or public reprimand; a complaining party has no standing to appeal). The Supreme Court will then independently review the entire case and determine the final outcome.
Language ID Cards
Language ID Cards in 13 languages are now available on the Hawaii State Judiciary website. Persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) will be able to print the Language ID Card and show it to ODC staff when they come to the ODC. A generic (English) version is also available, so LEP persons who speak a language that does not have a Language ID Card can fill in their name and language.