In Va., Inadequate Attorney Discipline

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The May 11 editorial "Another Slap on the Wrist" shined a much-needed light on the failure of Virginia's system for disciplining attorneys.

Virginia earned a shameful D-plus on our last Lawyer Discipline Report Card and ranked 40th in the country. In "adequacy of discipline imposed," it flunked outright.

According to the American Bar Association's latest statistics, more than half of the complaints against Virginia lawyers are not investigated and not even 2 percent of those that are investigated result in disbarment or suspension. When discipline is imposed, 75 percent of the time it is in the form of a private admonition or reprimand.

Virginia lawyers treat discipline and client protection as poor stepchildren. Despite the efforts of Virginia Bar Counsel Barbara Williams and her staff, lack of adequate funding too often leads to token discipline. The state Clients' Protection Fund, which is supposed to reimburse victims of attorney theft, also is one of the weakest in the nation, paying out less than $6 per licensed attorney (compared with New Jersey's $50 and New York's $45 per lawyer). Unlike lawyers in most jurisdictions, including the District and Maryland, Virginia lawyers are not required to contribute to the fund.

Virginians deserve an attorney discipline system that investigates promptly, deliberates openly, and weeds out unethical or incompetent lawyers. This means adequate funding, open proceedings, increased non-lawyer participation and evenhanded treatment of even the most well-connected attorneys.


Executive Director


Associate Counsel

HALT -- an Organization of

Americans for Legal Reform


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