Legal Ethics

Lawyer behavior in Florida will be overseen by local professionalism panels

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Local professionalism panels are being created in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits to help resolve civility complaints against lawyers without formal disciplinary action.

The panels were created by this Florida Supreme Court order (PDF), in response to a request by the court’s Commission on Professionalism, report the Sun Sentinel, the SaintPetersBlog and the South Florida Business Journal.

Miami lawyer Barto Sacher described the new panels as “a lawyer’s police force,” according to the South Florida Business Journal. Their success, he said, “will depend, in part, on who is appointed to these panels, and what their agenda turns out to be.”

The Supreme Court’s Professionalism Commission met in late June to work out details of the new system. Commission chair is Justice Fred Lewis, who is also author of the court ruling adopting the panels. At the meeting, he explained the difference between the professionalism panels and existing Florida Bar circuit grievance committees, according to the Florida Bar News.

“A grievance committee is looking to violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility and whether there’s probable cause to proceed down a disciplinary path,” he said. “It was thought these local [professionalism] committees would be more informal, would be flexible, would provide a source or outlet for complaints that are short of grievance type of things because much of the conduct may have a difficult time fitting into one of our existing rules.”

He added that allegations of ethics violations would be referred to the grievance process.

Commission members at the meeting also recommended that the panels accept complaints from both lawyers and nonlawyers, though they expect most complaints will come from lawyers and judges.

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