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Attorney Info

Under the Supreme Court Rules, ODC cannot reveal an attorney’s non-public disciplinary history. [1]  Thus, ODC cannot confirm or verify (1) that no complaints have ever been filed against an attorney or (2) that any complaints have been dismissed.  ODC may only reveal whether an attorney has a record of public discipline.[2]

First-time and/or relatively non-serious ethical violations usually result in the imposition of private discipline, of which there are three forms: (1) a private informal admonition imposed by the ODC without a hearing; (2) a private informal admonition imposed by the Disciplinary Board following hearing proceedings; or (3) a private reprimand imposed by the Disciplinary Board following hearing proceedings. [3] Where sanctions are imposed by the full Disciplinary Board, it is considered a more serious sanction than a private informal admonition imposed by the ODC; thus early settlement is encouraged. [4]

The identity of a privately-disciplined attorney cannot be revealed by the Disciplinary Board or the ODC.[5]  However, disciplinary sanctions are cumulative, and the imposition of any admonition or private reprimand in one case can be used against the attorney as an aggravating factor should he or she be found guilty of any future ethical violation(s).  This way, the previously private sanction can then become public.[6]

[1] RSCH Rule 2.22
[2] RSCH Rule 2.22/2.22(a)(3)
[3] RSCH Rule 2.22
[4] RSCH Rule 2.3
[5] RSCH Rule 2.22
[6] RSCH Rules 2.2(b)(2) & 2.2(b)(7); see also DBR Rules 25(e) & 26(e)

Past summaries of private informal admonitions appear in the Hawai`i Bar Journal.[7]  The summaries provide guidance regarding the type of unprofessional conduct which may result in a private informal admonition.  Please note, however, that an array of factors are considered in each case, including mitigating factors.[8]  The summaries are thus not binding precedent but examples of specific factual situations which have led to the imposition of private informal admonitions by the ODC or Disciplinary Board in the past.

1993 (April 1994)
1994 (September 1995)
1996 (July 1997)
2002 (July 2003)
2004 (July 2005)
2006 (July 2007)
2007 (September 2008)

[7] RSCH Rules 2.22(g) and 17(g)
[8] See ABA Std. 9.3 for a list of mitigating factors

In addition to its authority to impose a private reprimand, the Disciplinary Board may, in more serious cases, sanction an attorney with a public reprimand — with the consent of ODC and the respondent.[9]  Other recommendations for public discipline such as public censure, suspension and disbarment must be imposed by the Hawai`i Supreme Court.[10]

Once public discipline is imposed, the entire record in the disciplinary case is available for public inspection.[11] Certain documents, including final disposition orders and press releases may also be published.[12]

The Board has summaries of public discipline and Supreme Court disciplinary orders.[13]

Supreme Court orders may also be available on commercial legal publishing products (e.g. Westlaw, Lexis, etc.).[14]

[9] RSCH Rules 2.3(a)(4), 2.7(d); see also DBR Rules 3(c), 3(aa), 3(bb) and 27
[10] RSCH Rules 2.3(a)(1) – (4)
[11] RSCH Rule 2.22(f)
[12] RSCH Rules 2.16(e), 2.16(f) and 2.22(g); see also DBR Rules 27(f) and 29
[13] RSCH Rules 2.16(e), 2.16(f) and 2.22(g); see also DBR Rules 27(f) and 29
[14] RSCH Rules 2.16(e), 2.16(f) and 2.22(g); see also DBR Rules 27(f) and 29

Attorneys Suspended for One Year or Less

Attorneys who have been disbarred or suspended may petition for reinstatement, but may not practice law until reinstated by order of the Supreme Court.[15]

An attorney suspended for one year or less may seek reinstatement by filing an affidavit with the Supreme Court.[16]  This affidavit must recite complete compliance with all conditions imposed by suspension order including payment of costs, restitution (if any), and reimbursements (if any) to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, plus interest and completion of any additional ethical requirements such as the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), client trust account audits, or other conditions detailed in the order of suspension.[17]

If the Supreme Court is satisfied with the affidavit, the suspended attorney may be promptly reinstated by Order of the Supreme Court.

[15] RSCH Rule 2.17(a)
[16] RSCH Rule 2.17(b)(2)
[17] RSCH Rules 2.3(d) and 2.17 (b)(4) – (6)

Disbarred Attorneys and Attorneys Suspended for More than One Year

A disbarred attorney may not apply for reinstatement before five years have elapsed from the effective date of the disbarment.[18]  An attorney suspended for more than one year may not apply for reinstatement until at least one-half of the period of suspension has elapsed. [19] No suspended or disbarred attorney is eligible for reinstatement unless he or she has reimbursed the Disciplinary Board for all costs ordered and the Lawyers’ Fund for claims, if any, plus interest and fulfilled all requirements of the Supreme Court’s suspension or disbarment order.[20]

Attorneys who resigned with disciplinary charges pending are deemed disbarred for all purposes, including reinstatement.[21]

[18] See RSCH Rule 2.17(b)(1); see also DBR Rule 30(a)
[19] See RSCH Rule 2.17(b)(3)
[20] See RSCH Rules 2.3(d) and 2.17(b)(4)-(5)
[21] See RSCH Rule 2.14(d); see also DBR Rule 30(a)

Petition for Reinstatement

The disbarred attorney or attorney suspended for more than one year must file a petition for reinstatement with the Disciplinary Board and serve it upon ODC.[22]  The petition for reinstatement must show that the petitioner has complied with all requirements of the order of disbarment or suspension, complied with all rules, that he or she is qualified to practice law in this State and is worthy of the Court’s trust and confidence.[23]

Reinstatement by petition is an adversarial process, and the burden of proof rests on the petitioning attorney to show fitness and rehabilitation by clear and convincing evidence.[24]

[22] See RSCH 2.17(c); see also DBR 30(b)
[23] See RSCH 2.17(4)-(6); see also DBR 30(b)
[24] See RSCH 2.17(4); see also DBR 30(e)

ODC may ask the Chairperson of the Disciplinary Board to order an audit of trust accounts maintained by an attorney where any of the following has occurred:  (1) the attorney has failed to file the requisite trust account verification required under HRPC 1.15; (2) an attorney’s trust account check is returned for insufficient funds or for uncollected funds and cannot be satisfactorily explained; (3) a petition for creditor relief is filed on behalf of an attorney; (4) felony charges are filed against an attorney; (5) an attorney is alleged to be incapacitated or has been judicially declared incompetent or involuntarily committed due to incompetence or disability; (6) a claim against an attorney is filed with the Lawyers’ Fund; (7) an audit is ordered by a court; or (8) where other good and sufficient reasons for an audit are determined to exist by ODC, a hearing committee or officer, or the Disciplinary Board.[25]  The Disciplinary Board may also randomly order audits of trust accounts.[26]

Audit of Non-Trust Records  

An attorney’s non-trust financial accounts may also be examined if a review of the trust accounts reveals to the satisfaction of the Chairperson of the Disciplinary Board that the attorney is not in substantial compliance with trust accounting requirements.[27]

Cost of Audit  

The cost of audit is borne by the attorney if the audit reveals that he or she was not in substantial compliance with trust accounting requirements.[28]

[25] RSCH Rule 2.24(a) (1)-(2) and (b)
[26] RSCH Rule 2.24(b)
[27] RSCH Rule 2.24 (d)
[28] RSCH Rule 2.24(c)

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