- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Supreme Court has approved changes to how lawyers are investigated and punished for professional misconduct.

The biggest change is that the disciplinary counsel’s office in Bismarck will investigate complaints and then report back to regional committees, which currently investigate complaints from their regions with the disciplinary counsel’s help. The committees will maintain their authority to rule on the cases, with punishments ranging from admonitions to disbarment.

The new rules, which are in part aimed at speeding up cases, will take effect March 1, The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/2eQRM9s ) reported.

The update comes after a 2014 American Bar Association review concluded that the disciplinary system could be more professional, streamlined and transparent. The association noted that inconsistencies among the regions and perception of bias may have developed because the nine-person committees investigate complaints from their own regions.

The Joint Committee on Attorney Standards drafted rule recommendations, which were presented to the high court in May.

According to James Ganje, staff counsel for the joint committee, the current system often leads to slow processing of complaints. An investigation consists of calling complainants, witnesses and attorneys, and searching court records to gather information and understand the situation.

Tony Weiler, executive director of the State Bar Association of North Dakota, believes the new system will help speed up filtering through complaints including those found to be without merit.

“I think we were doing discipline well in North Dakota, but it never hurts to take a hard look at yourself when you have a hand in policing the profession,” Weiler said. “What you’re ultimately doing is protecting the public.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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