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Supreme Court limits notice of disciplinary actions

The Supreme Court of Virginia has told the Virginia State Bar not to put any information about disciplinary complaints on its Web site “until a decision has been made adverse to the lawyer and the the time for filing an appeal from that decision to the Supreme Court has expired.”

“The Supreme Court would like this policy implemented immediately,” Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. said in a letter to VSB President Howard W. Martin Jr. last month that included other topics.

“That creates some issues for us,” VSB President Howard Martin told the agency’s executive committee yesterday. He said the a response is being prepared that will explain the ramifications of the new policy.

Martin said he understood the action was in response to a complaint by an attorney who had a disciplinary citation dismissed on appeal.

Under VSB rules, disciplinary matters become public only after a disciplinary committee finds probable cause that a disciplinary violation has occurred. Once that happens, the VSB publishes hearing dates for the attorney before the Disciplinary Board or three-judge panels on the Web site.

When a finding of misconduct that warrants at least a public reprimand is made, the VSB posts the case on the “Disciplinary Actions” page of the site. Appeals and other matters that occur after the posting appear at the bottom of the posting with an asterisk and an explanation in contrasting red type.

Since Martin received the letter, no new listings of pending disciplinary actions have been posted on the Web site. The information remains public at the bar offices.

That bothered Theophani Stamos, a Fairfax prosecutor who is a member of the EC. “If it’s a public record, it’s a public record” and ought to be readily available, she said.

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