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Iowa Supreme Court
Admission to the Bar
Client Security and Disciplinary
Standards for Professional
Iowa Bar Association
for Professional Conduct (pdf)
Article: "Lawyers Should
Understand the Disciplinary Process"
Iowa lawyers have a strong tradition of professionalism. It is reinforced
by one of the strictest attorney disciplinary systems in the nation. Many lawyers
and non-lawyers over the years have made the sacrifice necessary to serve as members
of the two agencies that assist the Iowa Supreme Court in carrying out the courts
disciplinary responsibilities. Those two agencies are the Iowa Supreme Court Board
of Professional Ethics and Conduct and the Grievance Commission of the Supreme
Court of Iowa. The agencies are supported by a small staff of professionals. The
structure and procedures of the agencies are provided for and explained in Supreme
Court Rule 118.
Most lawyers have little contact with the disciplinary system and little familiarity
with either its structure or processes. Often a lawyers first contact with
the system occurs when the lawyer receives notice of a complaint. Several hundred
complaints are processed each year by the Supreme Court Board. All receive attention,
even when they might, on their face, appear to be of questionable merit. All accused
lawyers receive official notice of complaints and are obligated by rule to make
a timely written response. Failure to respond as required by the rules is an independent
basis for discipline.
Therefore, even though the majority of complaints are ultimately determined
to be unfounded, it is imperative that an accused lawyer comply with the rules
governing the complaint process. Moreover no lawyer is assured of immunity from
contact with the disciplinary system simply because of unimpeachable professional
conduct. All of us should become acquainted with the essential features of the
As a way of illustrating the structure and procedures involved in the processing
of complaints, I have prepared an outline printed here
to chart the path and potential dispositions of disciplinary complaints in the
As you can see, the system is constructed in a way that a complaint may be
dismissed at various stages of the process, depending on evaluations that occur
at each stage. The system also is constructed in a way that a complaint may take
a path ending in the imposition of discipline in a written opinion of the Supreme
Court. Once a complaint is made it remains in the system until the process is
completed one way or the other. Based on my experience in working with the system,
I have also prepared a list of insights that may be helpful to those who are interested
in seeing, in capsule form, some of the characteristics or features of the system
that are not readily apparent by reading the rules or even by reading an occasional
Supreme Court disciplinary case. That list also appears here. The system is designed
to implement the Supreme Courts responsibility relating to governance of
the bar. The process is not designed to inflict harm on lawyers, but a failure
to understand and comply with the process may cause stresses and consequences
that could be avoided by understanding and compliance.
I. A lawyer who receives notice of a complaint filed with the Iowa Supreme
Court Board of Professional Ethics and Conduct should ordinarily seek advice before
II. The lawyer should make a timely, accurate and complete response within
the time provided or seek and obtain an extension of time within which to do so.
III. If the complaint is without merit, the lawyer should attempt at each stage
of the process to respond in a way that demonstrates the lack of merit.
IV. Ethics Administrator Norman Bastemeyer works with the Supreme Court board.
V. Communications prior to the filing of a formal complaint before the Grievance
Commission are with the ethics administrator.
VI. Communications when a decision has been made to refer a case for formal
complaint before the Grievance Commission are with ethics counsel.
VII. Charles Harrington and David Grace are the ethics counsel.
VIII. Communications once a complaint has been filed are with ethics counsel.
IX. Although there is no plea bargaining in the disciplinary process,
it is possible to provide information to the ethics administrator or ethics counsel
which may help bring about an acceptable resolution of a complaint.
X. Once a formal complaint is filed , the proceeding is much like an ordinary
civil action involving extraordinary and sensitive issues where the judges
of the facts are fellow members of the bar and a lay representative.
XI. Any decision by the grievance panel which involves a recommendation for
a reprimand, suspension, revocation is subject to automatic review by the
Supreme Court, whether an appeal is taken or not.
XII. Upon review by the Supreme Court, even when an appeal is not taken, an
appellate decision is written and published.
XIII. Revocations are ordinarily final.
This article is reprinted with the express permission of The Iowa State
Bar Association. It first was published in The Iowa Lawyer , the ISBAs monthly
journal, Volume 60 Number 2, February 2000.
Mark McCormick, the author, is a former justice of the Iowa Supreme Court
who now practices with Belin Lamson McCormick Zumbach & Flynn, A Professional
Corporation, Des Moines, Iowa.
This article may be copied from this website and reproduced with the permission
of The Iowa State Bar Association as long as it is credited exactly as above.