Local Professionalism Panels and Fears of Reprisal
By the Hon. Ross Goodman (ret.), Levin Papantonio Rafferty
At a recent local professionalism conference, it was stated that lawyers do not want to use the Lawyer Professionalism Panels out of fear of reprisal. This attitude represents a basic misunderstanding of what the panels are about.
I have chaired or been a member on the First Circuit Professionalism Panel from its inception. Every time we have been referred to an attorney whose conduct allegedly fell below professionalism standards, we were met with gratitude from the subject attorney. EVERY TIME!
Lawyer Professionalism Panels (“LPPs” for short) generally are made up of experienced attorneys and judges who are dedicated to the principals of professionalism. The mission of the members is to identify a problem and help the attorney work through the problem. No charges are filed. No record is created. No punishment is meted out. No penalty is imposed.
Instead, the members of the LPP investigate the allegations and meet with the attorney. The LPP informs the attorney of the allegations and discusses the circumstances. Sometimes, the explanation is reasonable and logical and nothing further occurs.
Sometimes, however, the attorney either acknowledges having made an error, or the attorney comes to understand why their action in this particular incident could have been handled better. The attorney is appreciative of the input.
I don’t know about other Circuits, but, as of yet, the First Circuit has had no repeat reports against an attorney.
It is true that an LPP has the authority to pass the complaint on to the Florida Bar. I cannot tell you whether there has ever been retaliation for a referral to the Bar, since the First Circuit has never made one. And, I have not heard of any other Circuit LPP making a referral to the Bar. However, no referral is going to be made unless the conduct rises above a lack of professionalism.
If attorneys understand the above, they should not be reluctant to report to the LPP out of fear of reprisal. A referral, once completed, almost always results in improving the practice of all involved once the level of professionalism rises.
It would be naïve to think that reprisal is impossible. On the other hand, experience shows a long track record of success without any reprisals.
The experience in other circuits may be different. It would be good to hear from them as to their experience. If there is a record of reprisals, this needs to be addressed by the Professionalism Committee. If, as I suspect, there have not been reprisals, this needs to be publicized, too, in order to remove the reluctance that some attorneys feel.