When headlines are filled with the ethical failures of corporate and community leaders, it’s easy for citizens to get lulled into believing all they read. That’s why it’s critical that I separate fact from fiction and dispel the inaccurate allegations that have recently been made against the State Bar of Arizona.
The State Bar’s Lawyer Regulation Department is investigating accusations that Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas demonstrated unethical conduct on several occasions. Thomas has objected to that. Thomas says the State Bar investigations are politically motivated and he wants the Arizona Supreme Court to do something about it.
Because of confidentiality rules, we can’t discuss the details of the Thomas investigations here — but it is important that you know the Bar is obligated by Arizona Supreme Court rule to investigate all allegations of unethical conduct and then determine if there appears to be enough evidence to file a formal complaint.
In order to keep the investigations free from the appearance of favoritism, the State Bar keeps a clear line of demarcation between its governance function and its regulatory function. So, for example, as State Bar president, I have no role in the initiation, conduct or outcome of any lawyer investigation and played no such role in these.
If Bar investigators think there is enough evidence to file charges against an attorney, there is a thorough process that ensures checks and balances. A probable cause panelist decides whether Bar investigators have presented a strong enough case to file charges. Then an independent hearing officer presides over a process much like a trial where both sides present their evidence.
And finally, in cases of serious disciplinary action, the Arizona Supreme Court makes the final decision.
So when newspaper stories accuse us of retaliation well before the process is complete and before investigators themselves have reached final conclusions — that seems both unfair and uninformed.
As a lawyer with 38 years of practice and seven years of service on the State Bar Board, I can assure you that Bar investigators work rigorously to find the truth and stay neutral in concerning the merits. I just wish others would do the same and let a well-defined process run its course.
To weigh the facts yourself and learn more about the Thomas case, instead of reading sensational headlines, watch for our response to the Arizona Supreme Court which will be filed Wednesday and then posted on the State Bar Web site, www.azbar.org.
Dan McAuliffe is president
of the State Bar of Arizona.