Structure Of The Disciplinary System

The substantive law enforced by the disciplinary system is the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, which were promulgated by the Supreme Court effective April 1, 1988, and amended many times since then. Prior to 1988, mandatory standards for attorneys admitted to the bar in Pennsylvania were found in the Disciplinary Rules of the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Responsibility.

The disciplinary system is created and governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, a broad set of rules by which the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania carries out its constitutional authority to regulate the practice of law in Pennsylvania. These rules are promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Operations of the disciplinary system are governed by the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board Rules and Procedures. These rules are promulgated by the Disciplinary Board and set very detailed and specific requirements for the administration of the disciplinary process.

Role of the Supreme Court

The Constitution of Pennsylvania grants the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania exclusive jurisdiction over all matters of attorney discipline in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court promulgates and, in its discretion, may amend the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement and the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Supreme Court also exercises ultimate authority over the Disciplinary Board, its members, and the staff housed in both the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the Office of the Secretary. The Supreme Court appoints all members of the Disciplinary Board and designates those who shall serve as Board Chair and Vice-Chair.

Only the Supreme Court can impose public discipline (i.e. public censure, probation under supervision provided by the Board, suspension for a period not exceeding five years and disbarment). All filings with the Supreme Court are made with the Prothonotary.

Role of the Disciplinary Board

The Disciplinary Board has the powers and duties:

  1. To appoint a Secretary, a Chief Disciplinary Counsel and such Disciplinary Counsel and staff as may, from time to time, be required.
  2. To appoint Hearing Committee Members within each disciplinary district.
  3. To review, through a designated panel of three members, and approve or modify a determination by a Reviewing Hearing Committee Member that a matter should be concluded by a private reprimand.
  4. To administer private and public reprimands to attorneys.
  5. To adopt and amend Disciplinary Board Rules and Procedures not inconsistent with the Enforcement Rules.

The Disciplinary Board meets to consider both administrative and executive matters. During its executive session, the Board considers all disciplinary and reinstatement matters that come to it upon recommendation by a Hearing Committee. All matters are considered de novo. If oral argument is requested by either Respondent or Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Board Chair designates a panel of at least three members for the purpose of hearing argument. When the Disciplinary Board recommends that an attorney be disbarred, suspended or be subjected to public censure or probation by the Supreme Court, a Board Member assigned to that case prepares a formal report and recommendation which is submitted to the Supreme Court following circulation to all Board members.

The Disciplinary Board Members

The Disciplinary Board is composed of thirteen (13) members, of whom eleven (11) are lawyers and two (2) are nonlawyers. These are voluntary, unpaid positions to which the members are appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to three-year terms. Board members may be reappointed to a second three-year term, but no more. The Board meets regularly and makes decisions concerning cases before them, policies and personnel matters. The Disciplinary Board also appoints Hearing Committee Members to assist in the disciplinary process.

Hearing Committee Members

Hearing Committee Members are lawyers who are appointed to three-year terms and can be reappointed once. They serve on a voluntary, unpaid basis. Each of the four districts has Hearing Committees composed of three-member panels. The Committees hear cases and review files concerning attorneys located within that district. A listing of the currently serving Hearing Committee Members may be found here.

Office of the Secretary

The Office of the Secretary serves as the Controller, Personnel/Administrative Office, Attorney Registration Office, Prothonotary and Secretary of the Board, and is Liaison between the Supreme Court, the Board, the Hearing Committees, and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

The Office of the Secretary has the following responsibilities:

  • Prepares payroll for the combined staffs of the Office of the Secretary and Office of Disciplinary Counsel and receives and makes payment of all invoices and expense vouchers which are approved for payment.
  • Directly communicates with consultants to the Board, maintains employee personnel and attendance records and the Disciplinary Board policies and procedures.
  • Supervises the collection and processing of the annual attorney registration fees.
  • Makes revisions to the Rules of Professional Conduct, Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement and Disciplinary Board Rules and Procedures, and distributes revised copies to Board Members, Hearing Committee Members and Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
  • Assigns formal charges to full Hearing Committees and single Reviewing Hearing Committee Members in informal proceedings.
  • Schedules all hearings throughout the Commonwealth.
  • Receives, files and distributes all Hearing Committee Reports.
  • Files and Dockets Briefs to Hearing Committees, to the Board and schedules oral arguments before Board panels.
  • Disseminates Supreme Court Orders to respondent/attorneys, president judges, newspapers, Board members, Hearing Committee members, Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank of the American Bar Association.
  • Monitors Probation Reports filed by monitors and respondent/attorneys placed on probation for drug or alcohol abuse and/or supervision of practice.
  • Maintains roster of hearing committee members; advises the Board when reappointments are due or new appointments are necessary; furnishes new hearing committee members with indoctrination material; and keeps members abreast of current activities by way of special memoranda and bi-annual refresher courses.
  • Prepares agendas for Disciplinary Board and Committee meetings; serves as professional staff consultant on Board committees; attends all meetings; and records minutes of those meetings.

Office of Disciplinary Counsel

The Disciplinary Board is also responsible for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which is the investigative and prosecutorial division of the disciplinary system. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel is administered by Chief Disciplinary Counsel. Each of the four District Offices has a Counsel-in-Charge, as well as a full staff of disciplinary counsel, investigators, and support staff. In April 2003, there were 24 staff attorneys statewide, in addition to the Chief and Deputy Chief Disciplinary Counsel.

The primary mission of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”) is protection of the public.

The role of ODC is to investigate complaints against attorneys, and when appropriate, prosecute. ODC also provides educational programs for attorneys and consumers.

Disciplinary complaint review, investigations and prosecutions are carried out by Disciplinary Counsel in four district offices, located in Philadelphia, Trooper, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. Each office oversees the conduct of lawyers whose main registration address is located in one of the counties assigned to that district office. Each office is supervised by a Disciplinary Counsel-in-Charge. Individual Disciplinary Counsel investigate and prosecute cases from initial complaint to final resolution. There is no separate litigation or appellate section. Non-lawyer staff includes investigators, auditors, law clerks and secretarial and administrative staff.