State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia

The State Disciplinary Board and Its Functions

The State Disciplinary Board is made up of volunteers who are appointed by the Supreme Court and the State Bar president for three-year terms. The lawyer members are assigned individual grievances to investigate, and the group serves almost like a grand jury that determines whether there is probable cause to believe that a lawyer’s conduct violated the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Board’s work begins when the respondent lawyer is served with a Notice of Investigation. The Notice lists the specific rules that are involved in the investigation and must be served on the lawyer in accordance with the Bar Rules. The Respondent lawyer must submit a sworn, written response to the Notice of Investigation within 30 days after service. If the lawyer does not respond and if the lawyer is accused of violating a rule that carries a penalty of disbarment, the Board may recommend that the lawyer be suspended from practice until the lawyer files a response. These “interim suspensions” are based solely on the lawyer’s failure to cooperate with the investigative process and not on the merits of the underlying case.

The Board member who is assigned to a particular investigation is responsible for gathering the information necessary to make a probable cause finding. They may also issue subpoenas for necessary documents, such as bank records. The Board meets at least eight times per year to consider cases. The Board may take one of the following steps:

  1. Dismissal
    If after investigation it does not appear that the lawyer has violated a Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct, the Board will dismiss the grievance. In cases where there is a technical violation that has not resulted in harm to clients, the Board may decide to dismiss with a letter of instruction regarding best practices to help the lawyer avoid client complaints in the future. Bar Rules require that the Bar destroy all record of a dismissed grievance after one year.

  2. Letter of Admonition
    A Letter of Admonition is the lowest level of discipline. It is confidential and is used when the lawyer has committed a violation inadvertently or through ignorance of the rules. Letters of Admonition are also confidential, but the Bar may use the letter as an aggravating factor if the lawyer ever violates the rules again. A lawyer may reject imposition of a Letter of Admonition and choose instead to have a judge (“special master”) decide the case.

  3. State Disciplinary Board Reprimand
    State Disciplinary Board Reprimand is also confidential discipline, but it is used in cases that warrant more than a Letter of Admonition. The Respondent lawyer is required to appear at a Board meeting and is reprimanded by the Chair in front of the entire Board. A lawyer may reject imposition of a Board Reprimand and choose instead to have a special master decide the case.

  4. Finding of Probable Cause/Notice of Discipline
    The Disciplinary Board may issue a Notice of Discipline when the facts of a case are clear so that there is no need for a hearing before a special master. In a Notice of Discipline, the Board notifies the Supreme Court of its findings and asks the Court to impose a specific level of public discipline against the lawyer. The lawyer has the opportunity to reject the Notice and proceed to a hearing before a special master. If the lawyer does not reject the Notice, the Supreme Court decides the matter based on the information before it.

  5. Finding of Probable Cause/Referral to Special Master
    Click here for information regarding prosecutions by the Office of the General Counsel.
    When there is probable cause to believe that the lawyer has violated the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct but there are still facts in dispute after investigation, the Disciplinary Board may refer the matter to a special master for a hearing. In those cases, the Bar’s Office of the General Counsel serves as the prosecutor in the case.

  6. Evaluation for Mental Incapacity or Substance Abuse
    Bar Rule 4-104 allows the State Disciplinary Board to refer a lawyer for a medical or mental health evaluation if there are signs of mental illness, cognitive impairment, alcohol abuse or substance abuse. The referral is confidential and the Board may hold disciplinary proceedings in order to have the lawyer evaluated. If the lawyer does not participate or cooperate with the evaluation, the Board may take further action as it deems appropriate.

  7. Emergency Suspension
    Bar Rule 4-108 allows the State Disciplinary Board to ask that a lawyer be suspended on an emergency basis if the lawyer poses a substantial threat of harm to the public or to clients. The rule provides for an expedited hearing before a special master.

  8. Referral to Other Bar Resources
    The Board may also refer respondent lawyers to the Client Assistance Program, the Lawyer Assistance Program, the Fee Arbitration Program or the Law Practice Management Program.