New Jersey State Bar Association - The voluntary Bar Association of New Jersey, serving members since 1899.

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State Bar Disagrees With Public Disclosure of Ethics Grievances

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The New Jersey State Bar Association expressed disappointment following today’s ruling by the NJ Supreme Court holding in R.M v. Supreme Court et al that Rule 1:20-9 is unconstitutional. That rule mandated that an ethics grievance filed against an attorney must remain confidential until a formal complaint is filed. The New Jersey State Bar Association participated in the case as amicus curiae.

“While we appreciate the court’s consideration of promoting public confidence in the attorney discipline system, we are concerned that this decision could result in publicizing unsubstantiated and very minor grievances to the detriment of attorneys,” said NJSBA President Stuart A. Hoberman.

“We stand firmly behind the rights of attorneys to protect their reputations.

“The elimination of confidentiality will mean that information regarding hundreds of groundless grievances filed each year may now be disclosed. It will not matter that the lawyers involved are entirely innocent of the charges, the public airing of the allegations may be sufficiently damaging to reputations.

“We are also concerned that one of the progressive aspects of the disciplinary system—a diversionary program for those found to have committee minor misconduct—may disappear. This program has served as a wake-up call for first offenders and has proved an efficient way to dispose of minor charges. Now that a referral to diversion can be made public, lawyers may shun the process and instead fight the charges in the district ethics committee. This will harm the bar, add to the committee’s caseload and decrease efficiency within the disciplinary system,” he said.

In rendering its decision, the Court also said that attorneys may sue when grievants falsely smear an attorney in “statements…outside the context of a disciplinary matter, such as to the media or in another public forum.” Under Rule 1:20-9, grievants enjoyed protection from lawsuits for maintaining confidentiality.

The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice.