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Filing Complaints Against Attorneys

Allowing a genuinely unethical attorney to practice harms everyone, including the Justice system itself. If you have proof that an attorney violated his or her ethical obligations, consider filing a formal complaint. Be aware that in general, your proof must be conclusive. State Disciplinary Counsel are reluctant to discipline attorneys, even with clear and convincing proof against them. When sanctions are imposed, they may be of inconsequential proportions. After several complaints, though, the likelihood is much greater that more serious sanctions will be imposed. One additional suggestion is the use of affidavits; we have heard of positive results obtained by sending the complaints as sworn affidavits of the attorney's conduct and activities. You can also send any witness commentary as sworn affidavits along with the complaint to bolster the credibility of the complaint.

Do not file a complaint against an attorney unless you truly believe (and can prove) he or she acted in a blatantly unethical manner. Do not file a complaint to "get back" at an attorney. Do not file frivolous complaints regarding relatively minor misbehavior or about non-substantive issues- the court will NOT be sympathetic to these kinds of complaints. Filing a groundless or "annoyance" complaint will usually be to your detriment, as the court often deals harshly with the person who files such complaints.

Either request the proper form from the appropriate Disciplinary Office listed below, or modify this form letter to fit your particular circumstances. Use the list below the form letter to locate the correct contact for reporting ethics issues. Fill this contact in for the [name of governing body] lines. Normally after filing a complaint, you will receive a detailed form from your State's Office of Disciplinary Counsel to fill out regarding your complaint.

You may also check this link for updated addresses and information: http://www.abanet.org/cpr/regulation

The purpose of attorney discipline is not to punish the attorney but to protect the public, the courts and the legal profession. (Std. 1.3.) We look to the standards and the decisional law to determine the fair discipline. (In the Matter of Wells (Review Dept. 2006) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 896, 913.)


Accordingly, we recommend that "Atty" should be disbarred to protect the public, the courts, and the legal profession.

California Rules of Court, rule 9.20,1 - Failing to perform competently in client matters, commingled funds clients trust account.

  • Section 6106 [Moral Turpitude]
  • Section 6068, subdivision (a) [Failure to Comply with Laws]
  • Section 6068, subdivision (a), provides that an attorney has a duty to support the Constitution and the laws of California and the United States.
  • Section 6068, subdivision (c) [Maintaining an Unjust Action]


  • Multiple Acts (Std. 1.2(b)(ii))
    "Attorney" committed multiple acts of misconduct over an extended period of time, which greatly aggravates this case.
  • Harm (Std. 1.2(b)(iv))
    "Attorney" caused significant harm to her client, the public and the administration of justice.
  • Lack of Candor (std. 1.2(b)(vi))
  • Lack of Insight and Remorse (Std 1.2(b)(v))
    The hearing judge correctly found that "Attorney"“displayed indifference to her misconduct . . . [and] she does not appreciate the seriousness of her misconduct.”
  • Bad Faith, Dishonesty, Concealment, or Overreaching (Std 1.2(b)(iii))
  • Standard 1.2(b)(iii) provides that misconduct surrounded by bad faith, dishonesty, concealment, or overreaching is aggravating. Lowney engaged in gross overreaching with Tollefsen, a client who was elderly, sick, and alone.

Example of Discipline:

  • "Atty" Committed Serious Trust Account Violations
    Clear and convincing evidence supports the hearing judge’s findings that "Atty" is culpable of all seven counts charged in the First Amended Notice of Disciplinary Charges:
  • Count One Failing to maintain funds received for the benefit of his clients in his CTA (Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 4-100(A)2);
  • Count Two Committing acts of moral turpitude by misappropriating $33,217.28 from his clients (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 61063);
  • Count Three Committing acts of moral turpitude by knowingly issuing the insufficient fund check from his CTA and misappropriating $4,605.61 from the credit union (§ 6106);
  • Count Four Improperly commingling his personal funds in his CTA (rule 4-100(A));
  • Count Five Failing to promptly notify two clients he received their funds (rule 4100(
  • Count Six Failing to promptly pay clients their funds (rule 4-100(B)(4)); and
  • Count Seven Committing acts of moral turpitude by knowingly making false
    statements to two clients regarding their settlement funds (§ 6106).

Moral Turpitude – Dishonesty (§ 6106)

Failure to Cooperate with State Bar Investigation (§ 6068, subd. (i))



TO: [fill in appropriate governing body]
     [fill in appropriate address]
     City, State, ZIP

RE: Ethics Violations By [name of attorney]

I hereby lodge an official complaint against [name of attorney] who is licensed in the State of [name of State], and is therefore subject to the [name of State] Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Nature of the complaint:

[name of attorney] engaged in unethical behavior as detailed below:

[Detail the nature of the complaint. Be succinct and factual, do not enagage in any sarcasm or remarks of a personal nature. Offer to provide documentation or other proof upon request. You should also cite or paste in a copy of the specific guidelines that have been violated, or you can include it below.]

Date of Violation:___________________
Date Violation Discovered if different from above:________________

Other Relevant Information:
[Detail any other relevant information or event(s) here. This is a good place to cite or paste in a copy of the specific guidelines that have been violated, or you can include it above. Delete this section if your complaint is fully explained in the section above.]

I am sure the [name of governing body] will find this issue worthy of investigation, and I look forward to hearing from you as to the disposition of this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require additional information or have any questions.

Yours Truly,

  [Your Name]
  [Phone number]


AFFIDAVIT OF _________________________
The undersigned, being duly sworn, deposes and says:

1. I am over the age of 18, and believe in the obligations of an oath.

2. My full name is _____________________________.

3. I reside at ___________________________________________________ [include city and country].

4. My date of birth is _________________________, and my place of birth is ______________________ [include city and country].

5. My relationship to _______________________ (you and your husband), is as follows: _______________________________ and have known him/her for __________ years).

6. I have first-hand information and personal knowledge of the bona fides of the marriage of ________________________ (you and your husband), as follows: Your text/hand writing

Remove text in red.
Keep it to one page, just the basic facts.

7. I hereby testify that the relationship of _______________________, is authentic, and that their marriage is bona fide.

I affirm under the penalties for perjury that the above-listed facts are true to the best of my knowledge.

Name----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Date--------------------------------------------------

Oberholzer v. Commission on Judicial Performance (1999) 20 Cal.4th 371, the California Supreme Court held: “[A] judge who commits legal error which, in addition, clearly and convincingly reflects bad faith, bias, abuse of authority, disregard for fundamental rights, intentional disregard of the law, or any purpose other than the faithful discharge of judicial duty is subject to investigation.” (Oberholzer v. Commission on Judicial Performance, supra, 20 Cal.4th at p. 398, original italics.)


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