Attorney Ethics and Discipline

Office of Attorney Ethics
Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
P.O. Box 963
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0963
609-403-7800
oae.mbx@njcourts.gov
Johanna Jones, Director

 

To file a grievance against an attorney, complete the Attorney Grievance Form

The form must include all of the facts about your grievance:

  • Include the names and addresses of all witnesses.
  • Include all of the relevant dates.
  • Include copies of any documents that support the facts of the case.

Send the original and two copies of the completed form to the district ethics secretary where the attorney practices law.

  • If you are unsure which district the attorney practices in, you can call the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) at 609-815-2924 . Be prepared to give the 5-digit zip code of the attorney’s address.
  • You can also email the completed form and documentation to the OAE at  oae.mbx@njcourts.gov

The district ethics secretary will review your grievance.

If the facts of the case reveal a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, the case will be investigated.

Reasons the case might not be accepted:

  • If the facts of the case do not constitute unethical conduct, even if proven. For example, if the facts of the case show that the lawyer simply has been rude or did not pay a bill on time, the secretary will not docket the case.
  • Substantial fee disputes will not be investigated by the district ethics committees. Fee disputes should be addressed through the Fee Arbitration Program.
  • If the case involves pending civil or criminal litigation filed against the attorney, the secretary will not docket the case.

Once the case is added to the docket, the district ethics committee will investigate.

The case will be assigned to one member of the district ethics committee. Their goal is to complete their investigation in six months or less.

Their written report will be submitted to the chair of the committee. The chair will determine whether there is enough proof of unethical conduct.

  • The chair might find that there is not enough evidence to prove attorney misconduct. If that happens, the chair will tell the secretary to dismiss the matter. You will receive a copy of the report investigation. You have a right to appeal this decision to the Disciplinary Review Board.
  • The chair might find that there is enough evidence to prove attorney misconduct. If that happens, a formal complaint is filed and served on the lawyer.
  • The committee and the OAE might agree that the attorney is guilty of minor misconduct. If the attorney admits to this, the case could be “diverted.” The attorney can correct the cause of the minor misconduct and no discipline case is filed. You cannot appeal this decision.

If a formal complaint is filed, a hearing will be held.

  • A lawyer has 21 days to respond to a formal complaint.
  • After their answer is filed, a hearing will be scheduled before a three-member panel from the district ethics committee. Usually, there are two lawyers and one member of the public on the panel.
  • All parties and witnesses with testify speak at the hearing. The hearing is open to the public.
  • If you need an interpreter or an ADA accommodation, you must do so well in advance of the hearing.

After the hearing, the panel will make its decision.

  • If it finds that the lawyer is not guilty of misconduct, the panel will dismiss the complaint.
  • If it finds that the lawyer is guilty of misconduct, it will recommend discipline and the matter will be sent to the Disciplinary Review Board.
  • You and the lawyer both have the right to appeal the decision to the Disciplinary Review Board.

Grievances are confidential. Formal complaints, hearings, and decisions are public.

  • The district secretary and staff at the Office of Attorney Ethics will keep grievances confidential. Once a formal complaint is filed, the matter becomes public.
  • Parties filing grievances are not required to keep them confidential. Still, it is recommended that parties and witnesses not speak about the case other than to disciplinary officials until the matter is concluded. This will protect the integrity of the investigation.
  • The parties are immune from lawsuits for any information that they share with disciplinary officials. But the Supreme Court has ruled that parties are not immune for statements made to the media or in other public forums before discipline has concluded.

The New Jersey Supreme Court oversees all aspects of the legal profession in New Jersey.

The OAE acts on behalf of the Supreme Court to investigate and prosecute attorneys who have been accused of misconduct. The OAE assists and manages the 18 district ethics committees throughout the state. Additionally, the OAE itself handles serious, emergent, and complex disciplinary prosecutions.