Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Lawyers group rejects controversial disciplinary changes, secrecy

Controversial changes that would have reduced public transparency and made it harder to go after bad or unethical attorneys were decisively rejected by the Oregon State Bar on Friday.

The board overseeing the Oregon lawyers' group panned much of the work of a committee that met for a year but which was criticized as being more about lawyer-self protection than public protection.

In a nearly three-hour meeting, the Oregon State Bar’s governing board voted down many recommendations billed as overhauling the process by which the group investigates lawyers that lie, provide poor representation, or steal their clients’ money.

Supporters had said the changes would streamline the process and improve fairness. But critics said many of them would undermine public protection and confidence in the system.

The Bar, which doubles as a professional association and a de facto state oversight agency, is among the most public in the country, letting consumers have nearly complete access to disciplinary files.

The Bar’s board elected to keep it that way, unanimously rejecting two rules that would have destroyed disciplinary records after three years and cloaked pending complaints in secrecy.

“We have been lauded throughout the nation for the transparency of our process,” said Guy Greco, a Newport lawyer. By extension, he added, “Some of the other professional boards in Oregon should follow our lead and become as transparent as we have been."

Other changes rejected included raising the burden of proof under which the Bar could launch disciplinary prosecutions, and giving accused attorneys access to the Bar's secret internal deliberations about their case.

Agenda questioned

The changes had been recommended by a 23-member committee that included no non-lawyers. Its report hammered twin themes of efficiency and modernization.

But critics, including some on the committee, said its work focused on helping lawyers accused of wrongdoing while paying little or no attention to the primary public protection mission of the Bar.

Bar staff spoke in support of the committee's focus on quality.

Several members of the board stressed that any changes needed to avoid any perception of coziness and preserve external oversight by an outside board of practicing attorneys.

One major proposal approved by the committee would add a full-time judge to sit on the three-member panels that decide disciplinary cases, as a measure to improve the quality and consistency of rulings. The board tentatively approved the idea, but required the new position be an employee of the Oregon Supreme Court instead of the Bar, to avoid any conflict of interest.

Several other changes approved will streamline the process, though not to the full extent proposed. The proposals that were approved will be forwarded to the supreme court for approval.

In 2014, about 1,800 complaints were filed against Oregon lawyers by their clients, members of the public and other lawyers.