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A recent study issued by a Massachusetts Bar Association task force on bar discipline says the state is among the slowest in the nation in the time it takes to resolve attorney grievance matters. About half of the 40 cases that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Board of Bar Overseers decided in the last two fiscal years took at least four years to proceed from an initial complaint to the imposition of a public sanction-roughly three times the national average, according to the report. One Massachusetts attorney has spent more than half of her 24-year career “under investigation” for an alleged impropriety for which a hearing committee recommended suspension of her license for a year and a day, the report said. Another lawyer died uncharged awaiting a hearing panel decision in a case under investigation for nearly five years, it said. “It is simply not possible,” the report notes, “for us to hold our heads up as a profession that adequately polices itself when it takes longer than four years to even commence discipline against an attorney on a serious charge or 10 to 12 years for the charges to be adjudicated.” Apples and oranges? State bar counsel Daniel C. Crane said his office is open to suggestions that will improve Massachusetts’ attorney discipline system, but that the state bar’s use of American Bar Association statistics comparing Massachusetts to other states is not valid. “It’s an apples-to-oranges situation,” Crane said, pointing out that states do not all have the same discipline system, and each reports its data to the American Bar Association differently from the next. For instance, Massachusetts reports only the 1,000 cases a year it decides to investigate, rather than the 6,000 total cases it takes in annually, he said. Crane’s office is aware that there are old cases in the system and has worked hard in the last three years to reduce by 60% the backlog of cases under investigation for at least three years without charges having been filed, he said. Also, while the Board of Bar Overseers will consider the bar’s recommendations-such as changing the standard of proof to clear and convincing from a preponderance of the evidence-”will not expedite the handling of matters but instead take them longer to resolve,” Crane said. But Roy A. Bourgeois, the Worcester, Mass., attorney who chaired the task force, said he was disappointed by the “degree of defensiveness with which bar counsel has welcomed this report,” the first independent evaluation of the system in its 31-year history. The task force compared its detailed study of Massachusetts’ system with what other states do, and its recommendations are far from “radical concepts,” Bourgeois said. “We deserve a good system and we don’t have one,” he said. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court created an eight-lawyer, four-layperson Board of Bar Overseers in 1974 to administer disciplinary action against attorneys investigated and prosecuted by the Office of Bar Counsel. While the board may reprimand lawyers or recommend stricter punishment, only the state’s top court can suspend or disbar them.

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