Complaints about attorneys in Hawaii are handled by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, or ODC, which is funded by lawyers’ annual registration fees. Anyone can file a complaint, and there is no statute of limitations, said Bradley Tamm said, the office’s chief disciplinary counsel.

The office investigates lawyers’ compliance with the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct.

Based on the American Bar Association’s rules, the standards include prohibitions on lawyers making knowingly false statements to the court and obstructing opposing counsel’s access to evidence.

During trial, attorneys are not permitted to refer to information that is not relevant or not backed by admissible evidence, and they are not allowed to state their personal opinion. Prosecutors are additionally required to pursue only cases supported by probable cause and disclose all evidence that points to a defendant’s innocence.

The ODC reports to a volunteer board of lawyers, appointed by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Once an ODC investigation is complete, one member of the board determines whether the case will proceed to a hearing presided over by a hearing officer. That hearing officer then makes a report on findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations on discipline to the board, which can accept, reject or modify that recommendation.

Hawaii Attorney Discipline Process graphic

The board can impose the lowest form of discipline – a private, informal admonition – on its own.

Alternatively, the board can issue a private or public reprimand, and the accused party can either accept that or demand it be heard at the Supreme Court.

Discipline that is more severe, from public censure on up, requires Supreme Court approval.

Cases that end in private discipline – either a private informal admonition or a private reprimand – are kept confidential. Public discipline ranges from public reprimands to disbarment. The board and Supreme Court can also require attorneys to attend professional development classes.

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