TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Bar Disciplinary Review Committee (DRC) oversees the prosecution and appeals for disciplinary violations by Florida lawyers, and with continuous exposure through social media and news, the Florida Supreme Court has not only become more rigorous in its discipline, but the general population is also watching to see what the Bar is doing to monitor attorneys.
In the June 17 episode of the Florida Bar Podcast, Adriana Linares interviewed Adria Quintela, Florida Bar director of lawyer regulation, and Michelle Suskauer, chairperson of the Disciplinary Review Committee (DRC), about how the court is treating disciplinary actions, the top issues causing lawyers to receive complaints and the proper course of action within the grievance process.
“What the Disciplinary Review Committee does, the DRC, is we’re made up of members of the Board of Governors, and we look at and we oversee the prosecution and appeals for disciplinary violations by Florida lawyers,” Suskauer said. “We recommend policy on lawyer regulation and disciplinary matters, we make recommendations on different disciplinary actions, and we decide if something should be reviewed and appeals or what direction we want to go with certain particular cases.”
Quintela also discussed the Florida Bar’s process in dealing with complaints.
“We have a centralized intake system in Tallahassee, and that’s sort of the birthplace of complaints,” Qintela said. “So anyone who files a complaint against an attorney, files a complaint in Tallahassee and in essence gets farmed out to the different branches, depending on where the attorney is located geographically.”
Quintela explained that if the attorney is located in West Palm Beach, for example, that is going to go to the Fort Lauderdale branch, which oversees that geographic area. Then the complaint gets reviewed by one of the Bar counsel in that branch. They basically handle caseloads from the very beginning, through trial and through appeal.
Suskauer discussed the Supreme Court’s decreasing tolerance for unprofessional behavior and how it might relate to technology, social media and far-reaching media attention, which opens up the ability for more public monitoring.
“The public is looking at what is the Bar doing about this lawyer misconduct,” Suskauer said. “And so that perception is important and there have been big cases where people are taking a very hard look at what is the Bar’s response, what is the Supreme Court’s response to that type of misconduct and I think people are very aware of that.”
Quintela stressed that most complaints she sees are based on the lack of communication between attorney and client.
“It takes one second to call,” she said. “Just call them back and say: 'There’s nothing happening in your case, but here is what I’ve done.' That can avoid so many complaints, and it usually does, but if you don’t take the time to spend those two minutes with that client, you can spend a lot longer responding to a Bar complaint.”
Suskauer said she has noticed that lawyers receive complaints due to disorganization and missing deadlines. Florida lawyers should note that these issues are avoidable and, for the most part, unintentional, but it could end up on a permanent record.
“They are missing deadlines, they are not just missing phone calls, but and that leads to their frustration, it could lead to more unprofessional conduct,” she said. “Missing major deadlines can obviously cause great harm to the client and then ultimately land you with a grievance. And that’s something that I think can be fixed with technology, and probably very easily.”
Despite these more minor infractions, both Quintela and Suskauer agree that they are avoidable. And in the current disciplinary climate it is better to be safer than sorry.
“Regardless of what we do, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter,” Suskauer said. “And we’ve found…that the Supreme Court has gotten much, much tougher on attorney discipline over the last several years in terms of what justice they’re meeting out.”