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Ethics Grievance Process
The OAE reviews ethics complaints of attorneys who have been accused of wrongdoing. To assist the office, there are 18 ethics committees consisting of volunteers. These committees help review grievances filed against attorneys in their district.
File a Grievance
To find out what District the attorney practices in, please call the OAE at 609-403-7800.
Please have the 5-digit zip code of the attorney’s address.
Once received, a review of the grievance may take up to 45 days.
If the grievance reveals a potential violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, it will be given a docket number. Once a docket number is assigned the investigation will begin.
A grievance might not be investigated:
- If the grievance involves current pending civil or criminal litigation filed involving the attorney. A grievance may be submitted after civil or criminal litigation has been fully completed.
- If the facts do not constitute unethical conduct.
- If the grievance relates to an attorney fee dispute. Disputes of attorney fees should be addressed through the Fee Arbitration Program.
Grievance Docketing and Investigation
A grievance will be reviewed by either the DEC, if it is a standard matter, or the OAE if the matter is complex. Once docketed, the case will be assigned for investigation to either one member of the DEC, or to the OAE.
Grievances assigned to a DEC investigator are planned to be investigated within six months or less.
Grievances assigned to the OAE are planned to be investigated within nine months or less.
Regardless of where a grievance is assigned, certain matters may take longer to complete.
Once docketed you will be contacted to provide information regarding the basis of your grievance.
A grievance cannot be withdrawn after it has been docketed. If you determine to not participate, the matter may still proceed.
As a result of the investigation, an investigative report will be prepared. The report will be reviewed by either the DEC chair, or OAE director, for clear and convincing evidence of unethical conduct.
- If the report does not show clear and convincing evidence, the matter will be dismissed. A copy of the investigative report will be sent, and you will have 21 days to appeal the decision. An appeal is filed with the Disciplinary Review Board.
- If the report shows there is clear and convincing evidence of misconduct, then:
- A formal complaint may be filed against the attorney, or
- o If the matter is minor (the word minor is a hyperlink to R. 1:20-3), then it may be resolved through diversion. The diversion program is a nonpublic program requiring the attorney to complete certain obligations. The obligations are meant to correct the unethical conduct.
Formal Complaint and Hearing
Once a formal complaint has been served to an attorney, they have 21 days to respond with an answer.
Once an answer has been received, a hearing will be scheduled. A hearing is presented before a hearing panel or a special ethics master. Typically, a hearing panel will consist of one public member and two attorneys of the DEC. A special ethics master is an attorney appointed by the Supreme Court to preside over the hearing in complex matters. At the hearing, you may be called as a witness to provide testimony about the grievance.
For virtual/remote proceedings, the following resources are available:
Formal Hearing and Decision
If the hearing panel, or special ethics master, decides there is not clear and convincing evidence the complaint will be dismissed.
After a complaint has been dismissed, an appeal of the decision may be filed. The appeal is with the Disciplinary Review Board and must be received within 21 days of the dismissal.
If the hearing panel, or special ethics master, decides there is evidence of misconduct, they will suggest discipline. The case will be sent to the Disciplinary Review Board for its review.
Volunteer to be an Ethics or Fee Committee Member
Complete the form and mail it to the Office of Attorney Ethics – Form 12967