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The D.C. Office of Bar Counsel, which prosecutes lawyer misconduct, remains in limbo after a D.C. Court of Appeals ruling in November made it tougher to bring discipline cases based on investigations by disciplinary boards in other states. The ruling has already resulted in 18 reciprocal-discipline cases being dismissed, and last week the D.C. Bar Board of Governors approved a rules change that it hopes will correct the problem. In 2006, Bar Counsel Wallace “Gene” Shipp Jr. and his staff dealt with 61 cases that originated outside of the District, more than any other bar counsel in the country. If the appeals court rejects the rules change, the Bar Counsel’s Office will have to conduct its own investigation in misconduct cases where the out-of-state disciplinary body does not meet the bar’s standards, diverting time and energy from prosecuting offenses that take place in the District. “The implication for the Office of Bar Counsel would be a drain of resources from our original investigations to handling reciprocal matters in a more lengthy and labor-intensive process,” says Shipp. Until the November decision, the D.C. bar counsel typically relied on facts and results meted out by other jurisdictions to bring reciprocal-discipline cases. It then applied D.C. rules and, in most cases, either issued a public reprimand or made a punishment recommendation to the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility. The appellate decision stems from a divide within the Board on Professional Responsibility, the nine-person panel that examines bar counsel requests and makes its own penalty recommendations to the appeals court. The board split in two 2004 cases — one originating in Maryland, the other in Massachusetts — on whether counsel may use penalties recommended by some disciplinary bodies in other states. The bar’s solution is to broaden its rules to encompass all out-of-state disciplinary commissions. That plan is expected to head to court for review by the end of the week.
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected].

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