HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE ODC
Complaints (initially called “grievances”) for violations of the HRPC can be filed by any person. A grievance form can be used, or an ordinary letter describing the lawyer's actions believed to be unethical can be filed with the ODC office. A separate grievance form or letter must be submitted for each attorney complained against. Click here for a sample grievance form and for instructions.
The complaint letter should include:
- The lawyer's full name. A detailed statement of the facts believed to show misconduct on the lawyer's part.
- The date of each event involved in the complaint.
- Copies of any papers, such as letters, attorney-client agreement, court records, etc., which help support the complaint.
The complaint form or letter must be signed and the original must be mailed or delivered to:
Office of Disciplinary Counsel
201 Merchant Street, Suite 1600
Honolulu, Hawai`i 96813
Facsimile and email submissions are not accepted for security reasons and because original signatures are required.
There is no time deadline by which a complaint must be filed; however, evidence can be lost and memories fade as time passes. Therefore, it is a good idea to file a complaint as early as possible.
In addition to completing the grievance form, you should provide copies (not originals) of as many of the following items listed below as possible:A copy of any written fee agreement with the attorney. If there was no written agreement, please explain your understanding regarding payment to your attorney (for fees, costs, etc.)
- Copies of the front and back sides of all cancelled checks and/or copies of receipts showing payments made by you to the attorney.
- Copies of all correspondence between you and the attorney.
- A written explanation of the exact nature of your complaint. Explain what the attorney did or did not do that forms the basis of your complaint. [NOTE: Citations to one or more provisions of the HRPC you believe the attorney violated are not required.]
- The last date you were in contact with the attorney and what occurred at the time.
- The title of the case, the case number, and the name of the court or administrative agency.
- Copies of any pertinent court or administrative documents in your possession.
- If you have hired a new attorney, please provide his or her name, address, and telephone number.
- Your daytime telephone and cell phone number (if you have a cell phone).
- The number of attorneys in the law firm involved in your complaint. If you don’t know, state “Unknown.”
DO NOT PROVIDE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS. All documents received become property of ODC, and may be destroyed without further notice.
WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT WHEN A COMPLAINT IS FILED?
You don't have to be the client to file a complaint against an attorney. Complaints may be filed by any individual who feels that an attorney has acted improperly. Each complaint received by ODC is taken seriously and carefully weighed. Established procedures are followed in the review of every complaint received. You may be asked to answer questions from ODC staff investigating your complaint.
You will be notified of the final outcome of your complaint.
WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT EXPECT WHEN YOU FILE A COMPLAINT
First, you will not receive assistance from the ODC or the Disciplinary Board concerning your underlying legal matter. The ODC does not give legal advice to any person. Neither the ODC nor the Disciplinary Board has the authority to order an attorney to take action or to refrain from taking action.
Second, you will not receive reimbursement or other monetary compensation through the lawyer discipline process. (RESTITUTION MAY BE ORDERED IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES)
Third, unless public discipline (disbarment, suspension, public censure, or public reprimand) are imposed, you will not be given detailed reasons for the final disposition of your complaint.
WHAT WILL ODC RECOMMEND AFTER IT INVESTIGATES MY COMPLAINT?
ODC may recommend: (1) dismissal with a finding of no unethical conduct or that a finding of unethical conduct is not supported by clear and convincing evidence; (2) dismissal; (3) private informal admonition; or (4) formal charges. Formal charges initiate a formal disciplinary petition which will then go through the hearing process.
Fee disputes are not usually handled by the lawyer discipline system, unless a fee appears on its face to be "clearly unreasonable." Instead, fee disputes are referred to the Hawai`i State Bar Association, which operates a fee mediation/arbitration service. Here is the link to their website >.
WHO PAYS FOR THE DISCIPLINARY PROCESS?
The operations of the Hawai`i lawyer discipline system are funded entirely by annual registration fees paid by Hawai`i's lawyers. Ethics investigations are conducted without charge to any complaining party.
A SUMMARY OF SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Below is a list of what this office can and cannot do when it considers a complaint against an attorney:
- The ODC receives several hundred complaints each year. Each is considered carefully. Some take more time to investigate than others.
- A finding that an attorney violated a particular ethics provision must be supported by “clear and convincing evidence.”
- The ODC can impose minor discipline (a Private Informal Admonition) with the concurrence of a member of the Disciplinary Board; the Disciplinary Board can impose more serious disciplinesuch as a Private Reprimand or Public Reprimand; the Disciplinary Board may recommend Public Censure, Suspension or Disbarment to the Supreme Court, which has the sole authority to impose such discipline.
- The HRPC and the Disciplinary Board Rules permit the dismissal of a complaint. If ODC determines the imposition of discipline is unlikely, it will make a recommendation to dismiss the matter.
- ODC cannot refer you to an attorney. If you do not have an attorney and wish to hire one, contact the Hawai`i State Bar Association ((808) 537-1868).
- If you are considering a legal action against an attorney, do not wait for the outcome of your ethics complaint. Statutes of limitations that may apply to a legal claim are not tolled by the filing of an ethics complaint.