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Public Discipline Under the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct

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The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) is part of a comprehensive lawyer regulation system established by the Montana Supreme Court. Effective July 1, 2002, the system consists of ODC and the Commission on Practice (COP). ODC performs central intake functions and processes, investigates and prosecutes complaints against lawyers that are within the jurisdiction of the Court. Pursuant to Rule 5.B.(14) one of ODC’s powers and duties is to "maintain permanent records of discipline and disability matters and compile statistics to aid in the administration of the system.”

Consistent with that duty, ODC enlisted the aid of University of Law School Professor David Patterson, and two of his former students, Cory Gangle, Esq. and Jonathan MacDonald, Esq., in preparing a comprehensive record of all public disciplinary decisions issued by the Montana Supreme Court since 1992. These annotations are the result of that three-year effort.

The vast majority of the Montana Supreme Court’s public disciplinary orders are not published, although they are public. As a consequence, researching case precedent has, until this time, been a difficult matter. These annotations are designed to aid in the administration of the system by compiling all of the decisions in 1992 organized by the rules violated. In preparing these annotations, ODC referred only to public decisions resulting in some form of public discipline. A fair number of public disciplinary orders resulting in "private” admonishments have not been included in these annotations in order to protect the private nature of the discipline, even though the discipline was in a "public” order. As a consequence, there are no annotations of private discipline cases.

Wherever possible, the headings for the annotations are drawn from the conclusions of law reached by the Commission on Practice. Where conclusions are broad, the findings of fact are used to determine the nature of the violation.