Are State Bar Grievance Committees “Good Ol’ Boy Systems”?

Every practicing attorney in the U.S. is licensed by one or more state bar associations, and those licensing entities have grievance committees that address ethics complaints filed against attorneys they license.  What many legal consumers may not know is that the grievance committees are usually made up of local attorneys.  This raises the question whether the attorneys who are on the grievance committees protect their own.  The answer is: possibly.

In Bexar County, Texas, attorney Carl Kolb thinks the local grievance committee of the Texas Bar are “good ol’ boy[s],” that have failed legal consumers.  Mr. Kolb represented Isabel Sloan in a lawsuit against the attorney who represented her in a probate matter, Eric Turton, and the attorney who referred her to him, Oscar C. Gonzalez.  Mr. Turton misappropriated $75,000 of the $100,000 Ms. Sloan received in the probate matter.  In her suit against Mr. Turton and Mr. Gonzalez, the jury found both attorneys responsible for malice, fraud and theft by misappropriation, and found Mr. Gonzalez and his firm liable for gross negligence and false, misleading and deceptive acts and practices.  The jury awarded Ms. Sloan $867,000, which included an award of $290,366 for her attorney fees.

Ms. Sloan also filed complaints with the Texas state bar against Mr. Turton and Mr. Gonzalez.  Mr. Turton, who admitted to taking $75,000 of Ms. Sloan’s money, was disbarred.  It appears, however, that there was no disciplinary action taken against Mr. Gonzalez as the State Bar stated it had “no public record” of any discipline against him.  It was also reported that Mr. Gonzalez served on the local grievance committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  So, was Mr. Gonzalez given favorable treatment by the State Bar? The answer: we will never know.

HALT.org (Help Abolish Legal Tyranny) conducted a study of state bar associations’ secrecy in handling attorney ethical complaints.  HALT’s results:

[M]ost states conceal critical information about ethics charges against lawyers, routinely ignoring consumers’ right to know about current and previous transgressions of an attorney they are considering hiring.

For more on HALT, this study, and their work for transparency in attorney discipline, see our July 20, 2012 post, It’s 2012, Do You Know If The Attorney You Are Choosing Has A Disciplinary History?

Legal consumers deserve to know the disciplinary history of their attorneys and any attorney they seek to retain.  The bar associations and their grievance committees should be protecting the legal consumers, they should not be “good ol’ boy systems” that protect the attorneys.

You’ve got options.  The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field.  Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970. 

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