HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE ODC
Complaints against Hawai`i lawyers must be submitted in writing, on paper, and signed by the complaining party. To access the complaint form, go here: Complaint Form
Instructions to file a Complaint (please read carefully before submitting your Complaint):
In order to help us evaluate and process your Complaint, please complete the Hawai`i Attorney Complaint Form, on paper.
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
We do not accept Complaints submitted electronically.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”) will review and evaluate your complaint to determine whether investigation and/or prosecution is appropriate. Be aware that if the ODC determines that findings of ethical liability and discipline are not likely, investigation into your grievance will be discontinued. You will be notified of our decision in writing. Thank you for your cooperation.
In addition to completing the Hawai`i Attorney Complaint Form, please 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 Hawai`i Rules of Professional Conduct you believe the attorney violated are not required, but might be helpful.]
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.”
When providing documents to the ODC, please provide copies only. DO NOT PROVIDE: ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS WITH LEGAL SIGNIFICANCE, SUCH AS ORIGINAL COPIES OF WILLS, TRUSTS, AND/OR DEEDS. All documents received, whether originals or copies, will not be returned to you and become the property of the ODC, and are subject to future destruction.
Some Things You Should Know.
Below is a list of some things the ODC can, and cannot, do when it considers a complaint against an attorney:
The law limits the authority and jurisdiction of the ODC. ODC cannot act as your lawyer. For example, ODC cannot give you legal advice or other legal services, so ODC cannot advise you what your rights are in a given situation or what you should do. Additionally, the Hawai`i Supreme Court considers Complainants [you] to be a witness, not a party, to a disciplinary investigation and proceedings.
The ODC can and will consider each grievance carefully. Some grievances, however, take more time than others to consider. Additionally, the ODC receives several hundred grievances each year. Therefore, there may be long periods of time when you do not hear from this office.
A finding that an attorney violated a particular ethics provision must be supported by “clear and convincing evidence” (proven facts, not suspicion or conjecture).
Pursuant to the Rules of the Hawai‘i Supreme Court (RSCH), the ODC only has jurisdiction to investigate an ethics Complaint, it cannot decide on its own that an attorney violated an ethics provision. All disciplinary dispositions must be reviewed and approved by either a member of the Disciplinary Board (dismissals, deferral to minor misconduct, or ODC imposed private informal admonitions), or by the majority of the Disciplinary Board (Board imposed private informal admonitions and reprimands). Greater discipline (public censure, suspension or disbarment) cannot be imposed without formal review by the Disciplinary Board, and order of the Hawai`i Supreme Court.
The Hawai`i Rules of Professional Conduct (HRPC) and the Disciplinary Board Rules (DBR) allow for discontinuance or dismissal of a Complaint in a particular case based upon particular circumstances in the case even if a finding of an ethics violation against an attorney is supported by clear and convincing evidence. Thus, even if the evidence before the ODC supports a finding that an attorney violated an ethics provision, the ODC has the discretion not to pursue an ethics Complaint if it determines that the imposition of discipline is unlikely. (For example, if the Complaint is that an attorney missed a deadline to appeal, but the facts obtained in investigation show that the attorney was later able to appeal successfully, it is unlikely that the ODC will pursue this grievance absent other facts and circumstances. It is more likely that the ODC will instead caution the attorney to comply with his/her obligation to meet deadlines.
The ODC cannot give you the name of a particular attorney to help you. If you do not have an attorney and wish to hire one, contact the Hawai`i State Bar Association (HSBA) Lawyer Referral Information Service (LRIS) at (808) 537-9140).
If you are considering a legal action against an attorney, please do so without waiting for the outcome of your ethics Complaint. Processing an ethics Complaints take time. There are statutes of limitations which apply to legal claims, and they are not tolled by the filing of an ethics Complaints.
The ODC cannot advise or otherwise help you in any matters connected with your Complaint or in any other dispute in which you may be involved. For example, although the ODC has jurisdiction to investigate a Complaint that a fee is unreasonable, liability and discipline for an unreasonable fee are not common, and the ODC cannot decide on its own whether an attorney’s particular fee is reasonable. (See above.) The Hawai`i State Bar Association has a voluntary (but not mandatory) fee arbitration program. Please contact the HSBA for further details on its Fee Dispute Program. If the primary issue of concern is that your attorney’s fee is too large, we may request that you contact the HSBA to request arbitration of your lawyer’s fee.
Neither the ODC nor the Disciplinary Board is a court that can provide civil remedies to Complainants. (Thus, for example, if you believe that your attorney committed malpractice, the ODC cannot pursue or obtain malpractice damages for you.)
If the ODC commences formal proceedings against an attorney, and obtains an order of discipline, additional remedies such as restitution may be ordered. Restitution, however, is not mandated, and if it is believed that an ethical violation which might result in restitution cannot be proven by clear and convincing evidence - the ODC may not pursue any allegation regarding such rule violation. Additionally, even if the ODC pursues such an allegation, the trier of fact in a disciplinary proceeding may determine that the ODC has not met its burden of proof. Disciplinary proceedings are not a substitute for court proceedings. Thus, you are strongly encouraged to consult your own attorney if you believed that the attorney about whom you complain caused damages to you.