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The proposal would change the process for complaints against Arizona attorneys

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A top state court administrator is calling for a rule change that would add a step before some bar complaints against Arizona attorneys are investigated and limit access to information made public during those investigations.

Dave Byers, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, said he filed the rule change petition in response to an “explosion of complaints” filed by people not directly related to the underlying events.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of complaints filed about election matters, especially filed by people not involved in the case,” Byers said. His petition, citing the bar, states that “at least 40 election-related cases have been filed since November 2020.”

The State Bar of Arizona has been investigating multiple attorneys in connection with the 2020 election, including an attorney involved in rounding up the fake electors who falsely claimed then-President Donald Trump had won the state.

An Arizona Judiciary Committee found there was probable cause that three attorneys representing former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake in election-related matters faced disciplinary action following an initial investigation by the State Bar.

Currently, Byers says, all people filing complaints are significantly involved in the investigation process.

“They are given documents. They are allowed to object to what the bar proposes as an outcome,” Byers said. “But they also get information about these attorneys that I don’t think is necessarily appropriate. It could even be things like the attorney’s medical condition.”

Byers said he believes people with partisan agendas have weaponized the process. In his petition, he raises concerns that people who file complaints “may gain access to information that might otherwise be confidential until the conclusion of the investigation and then disclose it publicly before the discipline matter is resolved.”

His proposed change would still allow anyone to file a complaint. But complaints filed by people not directly involved in the underlying event would first be reviewed by the bar before being accepted for investigation.

Under the proposal, the bar would first determine whether the charges involve “serious misconduct, disability, overdrafting a trust account or a criminal conviction.” If the Bar determines that the claims fall into one of these categories, the Bar itself will be replaced as the person filing the complaint, resulting in the original complainant no longer having access to information obtained during the subsequent investigation.

Byers has asked for the petition to be considered on an emergency basis so it can go into effect before the 2024 election.

“The 2024 election cycle is already generating media coverage, and the attorney disciplinary process could once again result in numerous allegations brought by those not directly involved in the alleged misconduct,” Byers wrote in his petition. “This constitutes a compelling circumstance for consideration of the proposed amendment… and emergency adoption.”

Attorney Dianne Post has filed opposition to Byers’ proposed amendment. She said she believes she is among the people targeted by the proposed amendment because she and her colleagues have filed several complaints with the bar against lawyers related to election challenges. But they only filed complaints with the bar after attorneys were disciplined by a judge, Post said.

“This is an embarrassment to lawyers,” Post said of the proposed amendment. “One of the reasons the rule of law exists and is upheld is because people need to believe that lawyers are ethical, honest, decent and will follow the law. That’s why we have the procedures. And that’s why we have other lawyers who do that. the ability to report on these lawyers.”

Post said the proposed amendment is not the right response to a group of lawyers who, she said, acted out of concern for the integrity of their profession.

Lawyers are in a good position to identify and report misconduct by other lawyers, even if they are not directly involved in a particular situation, because they understand the ethics of the legal system, Post said.

The public comment period on Byers’ proposal ends Friday. Byers said he is open to feedback. He is due to respond to comments in mid-June, after which the Arizona Supreme Court will review the proposal at a meeting in August.

Challenging actions: Kari Lake’s lawyer faces license suspension and skips disciplinary hearing over false election claims

Do you have a news tip? Reach the reporter [email protected] or 812-243-5582. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @JimmyJenkins.

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