On July 8, 2022, new legislation went into effect that will afford North Carolina attorneys an additional review process and a chance to appear in person if public discipline is proposed. According to the legislation, a new grievance review panel (“Panel”) will be created within the Grievance Committee of the NC State Bar. The Panel is composed of the Grievance Committee chair, two vice-chairs, and two other members of the committee, including one member of the public. In the event the Grievance Committee proposes to impose public discipline on an attorney, the attorney is now permitted to request review by the Panel and to appear and present an oral argument to the Panel regarding the matter for which the attorney was grieved. The attorney is entitled to representation by counsel but may not compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of documents. This process is similar to settlement and other informal conferences and proceedings that many other professional disciplinary agencies have utilized effectively to reduce the need for formal proceedings.
After hearing the attorney’s argument, the Panel has a couple of options. It may concur with the original decision of the Grievance Committee, or it may remand the matter back to the Grievance Committee with a recommendation for an alternative disposition. The Grievance Committee can then affirm its decision or impose a different disposition in the matter. Importantly, the proceedings before the Panel are confidential and any materials presented during this process are confidential and are not considered public records.
The new procedure could greatly benefit attorneys by allowing them an opportunity to personally appear and defend against the allegations contained in a grievance. If successful, attorneys could ultimately end up with no public discipline, but at the very least, they can make their voices heard before having to make a critical decision regarding whether to accept public discipline or proceed to a formal hearing.