Disciplinary Process and Authorities

The purpose of the disciplinary system is to protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession from attorneys who do not meet their ethical responsibilities. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has the ultimate authority for disciplining members of the District of Columbia Bar for violations of the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct. The process is governed by Rule XI of the Rules of the Court of Appeals Governing the Bar, which generally provides that all members of the D.C. Bar, those making limited appearances pro hac vice, and others admitted to practice in the District of Columbia as Special Legal Consultants under Rule 46(c)(4) are subject to the disciplinary rules. 

The Board on Professional Responsibility is appointed by the Court and serves as its disciplinary arm, responsible for the adjudication of disciplinary cases and the administration of the attorney discipline system. The Hearing Committees preside over disciplinary hearings and are appointed by the Board. 

The Executive Attorney for the Board exercises the authority delegated by the Board pursuant to Rule XI and serves at its pleasure. The Executive Attorney acts as the Board’s legal advisor and administers the Office of the Executive Attorney, which is responsible for assigning formal charges to the Hearing Committees, maintaining records of disciplinary proceedings, and filing Board and Hearing Committee recommendations and cases.

Bar Counsel is the chief prosecutor for the disciplinary system, appointed by the Board, and is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of complaints of attorney misconduct and disability. The procedure is governed by Rule XI and the Rules of the Board on Professional Responsibility, which set forth the specific requirements for the processing of cases.

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has inherent jurisdiction over members of the legal profession in the District of Columbia, including matters of attorney discipline. The Court has the power to promulgate and, in its discretion, amend the rules regarding attorney discipline, including the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct. The Court established the Board on Professional Responsibility as its disciplinary arm, appoints Board members, and designates those who shall serve as Board Chair and Vice–Chair. The Court reviews the recommendations of the Board and the Hearing Committees and has the exclusive authority to impose the most severe disciplinary sanctions—disbarment, suspension and public censure.