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Scott County Bar Association
111 East Third Street
Davenport, Iowa

(563) 326-4491
(563) 326-4498


Professional Ethics & Conduct
The Professional Ethics and Conduct page is intended to be a resource for attorneys and the public regarding the regulation of lawyers practicing law in the State of Iowa. The Scott County Bar Association presents the information on this web site as a service to our members and other Internet users. The Information on this site is about legal issues, not legal advice. Due to the rapidly changing nature of the law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, we make no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or the reliability of the content at this site or at other sites which we link.

Professional Ethics and Conduct Resources
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Standards for Professional Conduct

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Iowa Ethics Opinions
Standards for Professional Conduct (pdf)
Complaint Form (pdf)
Article: "Lawyers Should Understand the Disciplinary Process"

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 court’s 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 lawyer’s 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 system.

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 Iowa system.

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 Court’s 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 responding.

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 ISBA’s 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.

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