Complaint doesn't mean lawyer is guilty

June 15, 1996

YOUR MAY 29 editorial, ''Policing the legal profession,'' shows a lack of understanding of the process followed by the Attorney Grievance Commission.

When a grievance against a lawyer is received, it is rejected if it clearly falls outside the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct. If it states a possible violation, it is treated as an inquiry that requires a response from the attorney and additional information. It may then be rejected, if baseless, or docketed as a complaint, if it clearly sets forth an apparent violation. It then proceeds through the system and still may be dismissed for lack of proof.

Statistics show that over the past 10 years, an average of 75 percent of all inquiries filed with the commission are either frivolous or without merit; many complaints are dismissed after investigation or hearing. The mere fact that one or more complaints have been filed against an attorney is not necessarily a measure of the lawyer's competence or professional reputation. Unfortunately, the press and the public today are all too willing to attach guilt to mere accusation without awaiting resolution on the merits. Once the filing of a complaint is made public, the damage to the lawyer's reputation is done.

If you are truly interested in a fair and open approach to professional discipline for the enlightenment of citizens in need of legal advice (and not as grist for the journalistic mill), would it not be fairer to all to go public only after finding a violation of the rules and taking disciplinary action? Then the disclosure of complaints resulting in disciplinary action could be relevant to a potential client in choosing a lawyer.

George D. Solter

Lutherville

The writer was chairman of the Attorney Grievance Commission from 1975-1979.

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