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If a Complaint Arises About Lawyer Services: How Misconduct Complaints are Reviewed in Kansas
Although the performance of legal services only rarely generates complaints of misconduct against lawyers, the Supreme Court of Kansas has established procedures for investigating such complaints and reaching judgments on lawyer discipline. This pamphlet has been prepared for persons wanting information about those procedures. All rights and obligations are specifically detailed in Kansas Supreme Court Rules 201 through 227, Rules Relating to Discipline of Attorneys.
Discipline Rules are Strict
The license to practice law in Kansas is a continuing proclamation by the Kansas Supreme Court that the lawyer is fit to be entrusted with legal matters as an officer of the court.
When lawyers enter practice in Kansas they obligate themselves to uphold the law and to abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct, an exhaustive set of rules adopted by the Kansas Supreme Court to regulate the professional conduct of lawyers. Lawyers who violate these professional and ethical obligations are subject to discipline. Lawyers in Kansas (not taxpayers) pay for the disciplinary system by contributing to a statewide fund to maintain the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator. This watchdog agency is an arm of the Kansas Supreme Court. The Office investigates all allegations of lawyer misconduct and makes recommendations to the Kansas Supreme Court for discipline when warranted.
Before Filing a Complaint
Nearly all Kansas lawyers are competent and respectable persons who uphold their legal and professional obligations; however, lawyers sometimes make mistakes, and some lawyers are more competent than others. A lawyer may lose the trust and confidence of a client for various reasons. However, just because a legal matter does not turn out the way one had hoped does not mean the lawyer violated any ethical standards.
While your lawyer assists you in presenting your case in its best light, the final decision rests with the jury or judge and is not controlled by the lawyer. If you do not agree with the decision, an appeal to a higher court will probably be more advantageous to your interests than filing a complaint against your lawyer.
You should be aware that the purpose of the disciplinary procedures is not to recover funds from lawyers or to settle fee disputes. It is instead to determine whether an ethical violation has occurred and, if so, what discipline should be imposed upon the lawyer. The Office of the Disciplinary Administrator never becomes your lawyer or represents your personal interests. In the disciplinary proceeding you should not expect to receive any money damages or reimbursement of loss or any individual legal advice or services.
The Disciplinary Administrator encourages frank discussion with your lawyer which often resolves the problem. Tell the lawyer about your dissatisfaction and ask for a full explanation of the matter. If you still believe your complaint is well founded, write the Disciplinary Administrator's Office.
Fee matters are not ordinarily a basis for discipline of a lawyer, because they usually involve the employment contract between the client and the lawyer rather than questions of ethics or professional misconduct. If you have a fee dispute, you should first fully discuss the problem with the lawyer. If the matter is not resolved, you may file a fee dispute with the KBA Fee Dispute Committee. Click here to access more information about the program.
Filing a Complaint
All complaints must be in writing and filed with the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator. The address is:
Disciplinary Administrator701 Jackson St., 1st Fl.
Topeka, KS 66603
You should not telephone the Disciplinary Administrator's Office as business is conducted only in writing.
No standard form is required for filing a complaint. You should write (preferably type) a detailed statement of the facts that cause you to believe a lawyer has violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. Be sure to send copies of any documents that support your allegations. You may find it convenient to seek the assistance of a lawyer in gathering and analyzing your facts and deciding whether they merit the submission of a complaint. Please provide home addresses and phone numbers of persons who can support your allegations.
Complaints are investigated by local bar associations or the Disciplinary Administrator's staff, who may seek further information. Many complaints are resolved or dismissed after the preliminary investigation.
The Review Committee
Once the investigation is complete a review committee consisting of three lawyers is assigned to study the complaint and investigative report. The committee may then dismiss the complaint if it is found to be without merit.
If the review committee finds probable cause to believe the lawyer has violated the disciplinary rules the matter becomes public and all records and proceedings are open to anyone.
The review committee may informally admonish the lawyer and the matter ends there. If discipline stronger than informal admonition appears warranted the committee may direct the Disciplinary Administrator to prepare a formal complaint. The lawyer is normally given twenty days to respond to the complaint before a hearing is scheduled.
The Hearing Panel
The hearing panel consists of three lawyers, including at least two members of the Board of Discipline. The Disciplinary Administrator's Office presents evidence in support of the formal complaint. The accused lawyer is entitled to representation by counsel and may present witnesses and evidence in defense. The complainant may testify at this hearing.
Forms of Discipline
The hearing panel may find that no violation of the disciplinary rules occurred and dismiss the complaint. It may determine that a minor violation occurred as a result of a mistake rather than an intentional act and may impose informal admonition. In that case the lawyer is summoned before the Disciplinary Administrator, admonished about the violation and warned not to repeat the conduct.
If the hearing panel finds that a violation occurred and more serious discipline is warranted, the panel submits to the Kansas Supreme Court a formal report setting forth its factual and legal finding and making recommendations for discipline of the lawyer. Recommended discipline could be public censure, probation with conditions, suspension of the lawyer's license for a specific time period, suspension for a indefinite period or disbarment.
Discipline cases submitted to the Supreme Court are processed in the same way as any other appellate case with both sides entitled to present written and oral arguments. In addition, the Supreme Court reviews a transcript of the proceedings before the hearing panel.
The Supreme Court need not follow the recommendations of the hearing panel or the Disciplinary Administrator. The Court may determine that no violation occurred or it may impose a different form of Discipline from that recommended by the hearing panel.
In Kansas, lawyer discipline is conducted openly, with safeguards built into the system to insure that your complaint will receive full and prompt attention.
State and local bar associations cooperate with the Office of the Disciplinary Administrator to investigate complaints filed against lawyer. You may expect the profession as well as the disciplinary system to be genuinely concerned with your complaint.
If you have a legal problem or concern and do not have a lawyer call the Kansas Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service toll-free from anywhere in the state. You will be referred to a local lawyer and the consultation fee will be $3.99 per minute.
Lawyer Referral Service
CALL TOLL FREE: 1-800-928-3111
IN TOPEKA: CALL (785) 234-5696
The Disciplinary Administrator has no authority over judges. If you believe a judge in the State of Kansas has violated the code of judicial conduct, you must write:
Commission on Judicial Qualifications
Kansas Judicial Center
301 S.W. Tenth Avenue, Rm. 374
Topeka, Kansas 66612-1507
Telephone: (785) 296-3229
A complaint form is available from the Commission office at the above address. The complaint should identify the conduct or action believed to be improper and should provide specific details and facts. If further information is needed, you will be contacted.
The Kansas Supreme Court established the Lawyer's Fund for Client Protection on July 1, 1993, to compensate clients who suffer economic loss as a result of dishonest actions by an active member of the Kansas bar that occurs in the course of a lawyer client relationship. The fund covers most cases in which lawyers have taken for their own use or otherwise misappropriated clients' money or other property entrusted to them. The fund does not have the authority to discipline lawyers, resolve fee disputes, or determine legal malpractice claims. Claim forms are available upon request from:
Client Protection Fund Commission
Kansas Judicial Center
301 S.W. Tenth Avenue, Rm. 374
Topeka, KS 66612-1507
Telephone: (785) 296-3229