Filing a Complaint Against an Attorney

 


Complaints against Lawyers and Judges
The information below is prepared by the
Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Supreme Court of Ohio at Ohio 65 South Front Street, 5th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215-3431. Telephone (614) 387-9370 or in Ohio (888) 664-8345.

The information below is general in nature and not intended to give specific advice for an individual legal problem. Please contact one of the organizations listed below if you have a complaint about a judge or lawyer or the legal services you received.

Frequently Asked Questions:
What Rules Do Ohio Lawyers and Judges Have to Follow?
May I File a Complaint? 
May I File a Fee Dispute?
Where Do I File a Complaint?
Should I File More Than One Complaint?
What Can I Expect? 
What Is Not Covered By The Complaint Procedure? 
How Do I Recover Money, Damages, or Losses?
Can I Recover Money If I Don't Sue My Lawyer? 

Other Frequently Asked Questions about the Grievance Process
 


What Rules Do Ohio Lawyers and Judges Have to Follow?
All Ohio lawyers take an oath to effectively represent their clients without compromise and conflict. The Supreme Court of Ohio regulates the conduct of lawyers and judges through the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Code of Judicial Conduct. Ohio lawyers and judges must obey their oaths of office and the rules outlined in the Codes. These Codes include ethical standards that each lawyer must follow.

For example, an Ohio lawyer is not allowed to:

  • knowingly mislead or lie to a client or a court
  • reveal a client's confidence or secret without the client's permission.
  • misuse or take money or property that belongs to a client.
  • settle, file or dismiss a case without the client's permission.
  • repeatedly neglect a client's legal problems after the lawyer has agreed to represent the client.

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May I File a Complaint?
If you have an ethics complaint against an Ohio lawyer or judge for violating a rule of professional conduct, you may report it for investigation. When you file a written complaint, an investigation is made to determine if the attorney or judge did or did not violate the ethical rules.

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May I File a Fee Dispute?
Yes. If you dispute the fees which your attorney has charged you or which you have recently paid to your attorney and you have attempted to resolve your fee dispute without success, the Lawyer-Client Fee Dispute Resolution Committee may be able to provide assistance to you. You may file a fee dispute by submitting a petition form to the Committee. If the Committee decides your dispute is appropriate for arbitration, an arbitration hearing will be scheduled to determine the reasonable value of service that the attorney provided. The arbitration panel's decision is binding and enforceable in court.
 

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Where Do I File a Complaint?
An ethics complaint against a lawyer or a judge must be in writing and filed with one of the following organizations:

  • an approved local bar association

     
  • Office of Disciplinary Counsel
    250 Civic Center Drive, Ste. 325
    Columbus, Ohio 43215-7411
    Tel. 614.461.0256, 800.589.5256
    Fax: 614.461.7205

     
  • Ohio State Bar Association (judges only)
    1700 Lake Shore Drive
    P.O. Box 16562
    Columbus, OH 43216-6562
    614.487.2050 or 800.282.6556

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Should I File More Than One Complaint?
A complaint should be filed with only one office. For complaints against lawyers you may file with either the Office of Disciplinary Counsel or an approved local bar association. For complaints against judges, you may file with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, an approved local bar association, or the Ohio State Bar Association.

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What Can I Expect?
The investigating committee or Disciplinary Counsel will gather evidence about your complaint and decide whether the lawyer or judge violated the ethical rules. If the committee or Disciplinary Counsel finds enough evidence of wrongdoing, it will file a formal complaint charging misconduct against the lawyer or judge. The Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, which is an independent board appointed by the Supreme Court of Ohio, will then hold a public hearing, and you may be required to testify. Based on the results of this hearing, the Supreme Court of Ohio may take action against the lawyer or judge to protect the public by limiting or prohibiting the lawyer from practicing law or serving as a judge. If there is not enough evidence of misconduct after the hearing is held, the charges will be dismissed by the Board.

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What Is Not Covered By The Complaint Procedure?
Disputes between you and your lawyer over fees are not ordinarily a basis for an ethics complaint. Several bar associations have fee arbitration services that can help resolve fee disputes. If you believe that you did not receive a proper result in a civil or criminal case, the ethics complaint process will not affect the outcome of your case. The lawyers investigating your ethics complaint cannot represent you or appeal the outcome of any case for you or recover money for you. The recovery of money damages or losses is not the purpose of the ethics complaint procedure.

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How Do I Recover Money, Damages, or Losses?
Filing an ethics complaint against a lawyer will not result in a recovery of the money you lost. If you suffer money damages or out of pocket losses as a result of your lawyer's mistakes or negligence, you may have a legal malpractice claim.

Malpractice lawsuits require a client to sue the lawyer within one year. If you wish to file a malpractice claim against a lawyer, you should immediately consult with a different lawyer about the one year limitation and the damages you believe you have suffered.

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Can I Recover Money If I Don't Sue My Lawyer?
If your lawyer has illegally taken or misused your money or property, you may be eligible to recover the loss caused by the dishonest conduct through filing a claim with the Client's Security Fund of Ohio, 65 South Front Street, 5th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215-3431, telephone 1.800.231.1680 or 614.387.9390. You do not need the assistance of a lawyer to file this claim: you may file it yourself.

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The information above is prepared by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Supreme Court of Ohio at Ohio 65 South Front Street, 5th Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215-3431. Telephone (614) 387-9370 or in Ohio (888) 664-8345.

 Other Frequently Asked Questions about the Grievance Process

 


How can I obtain a Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Certified Grievance Committee complaint form?
Can I file a complaint against more than one attorney, judge, or law firm? Which attorneys or judges does the Certified Grievance Committee have jurisdiction to investigate?
What if I do not know if the attorney's or judge's conduct is unethical?
Will the Certified Grievance Committee represent me in my dispute with my attorney?
Will the Certified Grievance Committee represent me in the matter that is being handled by the attorney about whom I am complaining, or can the Certified Grievance Committee give me legal advice regarding that matter?
Must the Certified Grievance Committee investigate every complaint it receives?
What is the Complaint process?
Will I be contacted during the investigation of the grievance?
How do I find out about the progress of my complaint?
Will the attorney or judge know that I have a filed a grievance against him or her?
May the attorney sue me for filing a complaint against him or her?
May I disclose to others that I have filed a complaint against an attorney or judge?
Who are the members of the Certified Grievance Committee?
What kinds of complaints are not handled by the Committee?
What sort of discipline may the Ohio Supreme Court impose upon an attorney or judge?
Can I appeal the Committee's decision?
How can I find out if an attorney has been disciplined?
What other legal organizations offer similar grievance processes?
 


How can I obtain a Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Certified Grievance Committee complaint form?
You can obtain a grievance form by downloading one. To obtain a form to file a grievance against an attorney, click here. To obtain a form to file a grievance against a judge, click here. You may also call the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association directly at (216) 696-3525 to request a grievance form. When you call to request a grievance form, it will be mailed to you within 5 - 7 business days.

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Can I file a complaint against more than one attorney, judge, or law firm? Which attorneys or judges does the Certified Grievance Committee have jurisdiction to investigate?
Yes, you may file a complaint against every attorney or judge who you believe has acted unethically. However, you must file each complaint on a separate grievance form. You may not file a complaint against a law firm; the Committee can only investigate the ethical conduct of individuals - not law firms - so you must name the attorney in the firm whose conduct you believe is unethical. Further, the Certified Grievance Committee can only investigate attorneys with offices in Cuyahoga County.  If the attorney against whom you wish to file a complaint does not have an office in Cuyahoga County, you should contact the Certified Grievance Committee in the county where his or her office is located, or you can file the complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel which has jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct against all Ohio attorneys and judges. Remember, you may file a grievance with only one of these agencies. We will not duplicate investigations that have already been conducted or are currently being conducted by another disciplinary agency. Pursuant to a recent amendment to the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio, Gov. Bar. V(C)(3)(2) prohibits the Certified Grievance Committee from investigating allegations of misconduct against a judge who holds office in Cuyahoga County. Complaints against judges should be filed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

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What if I do not know if the attorney's or judge's conduct is unethical?
You should file the grievance to find out whether the conduct of an attorney or judge is unethical. Our staff cannot tell you if the conduct you describe is a violation of an ethical rule because this is specifically what the Certified Grievance Committee determines when it reviews each individual grievance. The best thing for you to do if you question certain conduct is to file the complaint so that the Certified Grievance Committee can review the facts and circumstances of your complaint to determine if the conduct is unethical.


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Will the Certified Grievance Committee represent me in my dispute with my attorney?
The Committee will investigate any complaint that is filed with it, but it cannot take sides in a private dispute. The Committee does not pursue discipline against an attorney on your individual behalf. The Committee cannot award you money, provide to you representation against your attorney, or obtain restitution from your attorney. The Committee can not get files back from an attorney, nor can it overturn or review a judgment of a court. The sole purpose of the complaint process is to determine whether the attorney (or judge) violated an ethical rule. Ultimately, if the Committee finds sufficient evidence of ethical misconduct, it can only seek to discipline the attorney or judge, affecting their license to practice law in Ohio.

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Will the Certified Grievance Committee represent me in the matter that is being handled by the attorney about whom I am complaining, or can the Certified Grievance Committee give me legal advice regarding that matter?
No. The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and the Certified Grievance Committee cannot give legal advice, answer legal questions or provide legal representation. If you no longer want your attorney to continue representing you, you should retain a different attorney. If you are currently unrepresented and desire a referral to a lawyer who can represent you, you may contact the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.

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Must the Certified Grievance Committee investigate every complaint it receives?
Yes. The Committee must open a file and review every complaint it receives which is submitted in accordance with the Committee's filing instructions. Gov. Bar. Rule 5, §4(c) states: '[t]he Disciplinary Counsel and a Certified Grievance Committee shall investigate any matter filed with it or that comes to its attention and may file a complaint pursuant to this rule in cases where it finds probable cause to believe that misconduct has occurred…' However, Gov. Bar. V(C)(3)(2) prohibits the Certified Grievance Committee from investigating allegations of misconduct against a judge who holds office in Cuyahoga County. Complaints against judges should be filed with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Complaints against judges sent to the Certified Grievance Committee will be forwarded to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for investigation. 

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What is the complaint process?
A grievance sent to the Certified Grievance Committee will be reviewed to determine whether the grievance alleges a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Code of Judicial Conduct. If there is evidence that supports the allegation of a violation, the grievance will be investigated further. Following the investigation, if substantial, credible evidence is found that a violation has occurred, a formal complaint may be filed with the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. A three-member panel of the Board will review the complaint and determine whether probable cause exists to certify it. If the complaint is certified by the Board of Commissioners, a hearing is then held before a different three-member panel of the Board. The panel considers the evidence and makes a recommendation to the full Board of Commissioners. The full Board then makes a recommendation to the Supreme Court of Ohio. The Court has final say on whether to discipline an attorney or judge and what sanction should be administered. A grievance can be dismissed at any point in the process if sufficient evidence does not exist to warrant discipline against the attorney or judge.

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Will I be contacted during the investigation of the grievance?
Not necessarily. Normally, the Committee does not contact a grievant upon receipt of the grievance or during its investigation of it. That is why it is so important for you to thoroughly explain your complaint on the grievance form and attach any relevant materials you believe the Committee should review during its investigation. If the Committee needs more information from you at any point during its investigation, it will contact you. The Committee will always notify you in writing of the ultimate determination that it makes regarding your grievance.

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How do I find out about the progress of my complaint?
Either party to a grievance (you or the attorney against whom you filed the complaint) can contact the Grievance Department at the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association at (216) 696-3525 to learn the status of the grievance. Ordinarily, the review process (which is the time the Certified Grievance Committee receives the complaint until the time it determines if there is probable cause of an ethical violation) takes sixty to ninety days. If a complaint requires further investigation, it may take longer. During the review time period you will generally receive no contact from the Committee.

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Will the attorney or judge know that I have a filed a grievance against him or her?
Yes. The attorney or judge against whom you have filed a complaint will be notified that a complaint has been filed against him or her.

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May the attorney sue me for filing a complaint against him or her?
An attorney cannot successfully sue you simply because you have filed a grievance against him or her, provided that the complaint is made in good faith.

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May I disclose to others that I have filed a complaint against an attorney or judge?
No. The rules governing this process make a grievance confidential until the Certified Grievance Committee files a formal complaint against the attorney or judge which is certified by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. Accordingly, you should not disclose to others that you have filed a complaint against an attorney or judge. You would be notified if and when your complaint resulted in a formal complaint being filed against the attorney or judge for discipline, at which time you could then make the matter public.

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Who are the members of the Certified Grievance Committee?
The Committee consists of between 15 and 45 volunteer members. Most of the members are attorneys, but at least ten percent of the members are non-lawyers. The members are appointed by the President and Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. The Committee is certified by the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Ohio Supreme Court, empowering it to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct. Unfortunately, the Association cannot produce a roster of the attorney and non-lawyer members of the Committee.

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What kinds of complaints are not handled by the Committee?
The Committee does not handle dispute resolution issues, nor does it handle malpractice actions against attorneys. The Committee cannot review or overturn the decision of any court or tribunal or make determination regarding ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The Committee does not handle fee dispute issues. Please note: if you wish to file both a fee dispute petition for fee dispute resolution and a grievance about the ethical propriety of the attorney's conduct, you must file the grievance first. Upon completion of the Certified Grievance Committee's investigation, if your fee dispute still exists, you may file the fee petition for fee arbitration according to the rules of that program.

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What sort of discipline may the Ohio Supreme Court impose upon an attorney or judge?
If the Supreme Court finds that the attorney violated an ethical rule, that attorney can receive a variety of punishments depending upon the type and the egregiousness of violation. The Supreme Court may publicly reprimand the attorney, suspend him or her from the practice of law for a definite or indefinite period of time, or permanently disbar the attorney. An attorney who is publicly reprimanded has an ethical judgment filed against him or her and this record is made public. An attorney who is suspended may not practice law for the length of his or her suspension. An attorney who is disbarred is permanently prohibited from practicing law in the state of Ohio.

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Can I appeal the Committee's decision not to pursue discipline against an attorney?
Yes, if you filed your complaint with the Certified Grievance Committee. You may secure a review of the Committee's determination by filing a written request with the Secretary of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Bar within fourteen (14) days of your receipt of letter from the Certified Grievance Committee notifying you that the Committee dismissed your complaint. However, if you file directly with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, you cannot appeal its decisions.

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How can I find out if an attorney has been disciplined in the past?
To determine if an attorney has been previously disciplined by the Ohio Supreme Court you can call the Attorney Registration Section of the Ohio Supreme Court at (614) 387-9320 or in Ohio (800) 926-8010, or you may check the attorney's record online by clicking here.

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What other legal organizations offer similar grievance processes?
The following Bar Associations offer grievance processes. To determine where to file your grievance, first identify the county in which the attorney's office is located and then contact the bar association covering that county. Here is a list of area bar associations by county:

 

Ashtabula
Ashtabula County Bar Association
P.O. Box 119
Ashtabula, OH 44005-0829
440-275-0717

Geauga
Geauga County Bar Association
114 E. Park Street
Chardon, OH 44024
440-286-6177

 
Lake
Lake County Bar AssociationCourthouse
47 N. Park Pl.
P.O. Box 490
Painesville, OH 44077
216-352-6044

Lorain
Lorain County Bar Association
401 Broad Street, Ste. 202
Elyria, OH 44035
440-323-8416

Summit
Akron Bar Association
57 South Broadway
Akron, OH 44308
330-253-5007

 

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