State Bar Counsel Intervenes to Keep Accused Attorney’s Sworn Testimony Confidential

In a strange twist, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel {CDC – the Bar’s grievance counsel} recently intervened in a lawsuit in which they were not a party and asked a Travis County District Court to keep confidential the sworn testimony of an accused lawyer that he made in a hearing before a Bar panel.  My client filed a grievance against an Austin criminal lawyer after spending $300,000 on her son’s case (which resulted in significant jail time).  The lawyer refused to provide an accounting of the money, or where it was spent.  Inexplicably, at a Bar Investigatory Hearing, the volunteer Panel let the criminal lawyer go without even a warning about his conduct.  My client then filed a lawsuit against the criminal attorney in Travis County District Court for breaching his fiduciary duty.  As part of the proceeding, my client and her son sought the sworn testimony of the criminal attorney from the Investigatory Hearing, but Judge Cleve Doty held that my client couldn’t get it because it was confidential.

The take away lesson to lawyers appearing before the secret panels in the Bar’s grievance process: you don’t have to worry because whatever you tell the Bar cannot be used against you in a different matter.  This decision puts the CDC in the strange position of protecting accused lawyers and keeping what they say—under oath—under wraps.  The CDC says the law requires them to do it, but the law doesn’t go that far.  However, as long as Judge Doty’s opinion is followed, any lawyer with a pending grievance need not worry because what they tell the Bar—even testimony under oath—won’t be scrutinized elsewhere.  

The take away lesson for complainants who filed a grievance against an attorney: if you want to preserve what the lawyer tells the Bar in a hearing, you better take your own court reporter to it because the Bar won’t let you record it.   And now, because of Judge Doty’s ruling, they will say that they don’t have to give you a copy of the sworn testimony of the lawyer who did you wrong.  

This is a case of first impression, so there may be more potential rulings and opinions coming in the future.  But strange things result when you find the State Bar seemingly “going to bat” to protect accused lawyers!  Good news for lawyers I suppose because complainants seem not to be the concern of the CDC.