By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Judges at a panel on Tuesday
defended New York state's department-by-department approach to
discipline of attorneys, saying they receive fair hearings
regardless of the venue.
New York leaves attorney discipline up to each of the four
intermediate appellate departments, unlike many states that have
a unified system.
During a discussion at the New York State Bar Association's
annual meeting, Luis Gonzalez, presiding justice of the
Appellate Division, First Department, said that while uniformity
was a "laudable objective," justice could still be served using
disparate disciplinary rules.
Some differences in the department's disciplinary rules are
minor or procedural, panelists said. In the First Department,
for instance, referees designated to investigate certain cases
are allowed to make recommendations to the judges about the type
of sanction to impose. In the Second Department they generally
Other differences are more significant.
Only two appellate divisions -- the Third and Fourth --
allow oral arguments in disciplinary cases. And all the
appellate departments except the First have a diversion program
for attorneys whose minor disciplinary infractions stem from
alcohol or drug abuse.
Some New York attorneys have questioned whether the state
bar would benefit from a less balkanized system. In a 2005
report, the New York County Lawyers Association's Committee on
Lawyer Discipline suggested the disciplinary rules should be
But panel members said on Tuesday the existing rules are
tailored to each department's respective needs and culture.
In the Second Department, which handles more cases than any
other, allowing oral arguments in every disciplinary matter
could overwhelm the court, said Justice Mark Dillon of the
Appellate Division, Second Department.
Karen Peters, presiding justice of the Third Department,
said a more unified approach to defining attorney sanctions
could benefit the courts.
Currently, definitions for disciplinary terms like
"admonishment" or "letter of caution" vary between the
departments, Peters said.
Panelists also discussed the possibility of introducing a
new diversionary program for lawyers with mental health issues,
similar to the ones aimed at lawyers with alcohol and drug
abuse. No such program currently exists in any of the
departments, panelists said.
Anthony Gigliotti, chief counsel for the Fourth and Fifth
Judicial Districts in the Appellate Division's Fourth
Department, said his court was seeing more attorneys with
disciplinary problems that may stem in part from mental health
issues. Dillon and Gonzalez said they would be open to
discussing whether to implement a mental-health diversion
program in their respective departments.
Roy Simon, a professor at Hofstra University School of Law,
said having a unified approach to discipline could prove
Dillon said that without a "catalyst," it was unlikely that
the departments would move independently to unify their
"I suspect that 30 years from now, the rules will be closer
to uniformity, but not total uniformity," Gonzalez said.
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