Disrespect Can Lead to Discipline

Colorado’s disciplinary judge shares his take on civility in the practice of law

The judge who presides over Colorado’s attorney discipline cases hopes that if he talks to lawyers about the importance of professional behavior, he’ll see fewer misconduct cases end up in his court.

Presiding Disciplinary Judge William Lucero said professionalism and the rules of professional conduct are two separate issues, but they can overlap. There are times when a lawyer persistently acts unprofessionally, it could amount to an ethics complaint that ultimately places that lawyer in front of Lucero. “That’s a concern for me,” he said.

Lucero delivered these remarks in a talk on professionalism Thursday night at the Lindsay-Flanigan Courthouse in downtown Denver. The presentation, sponsored by the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association, brought together a group of lawyers and judges in attendance that included Colorado Supreme Court Justice William Hood.

The Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge is an independent office out of the Colorado Supreme Court. As the PDJ, Lucero presides over cases that involve attorney discipline and the unauthorized practice of law, as well as bar admissions cases involving character and fitness. A three-member hearing board decides the disciplinary cases, in which the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel acts as the prosecution. The hearing board and the PDJ issued 67 disciplinary opinions in 2017 and 38 opinions so far this year.

Professionalism is about more than just being civil, Lucero said. The Colorado Bar Association’s Professionalism Coordinating Council defines professionalism as “conduct reflecting the values embodied in” the state’s oath of admission, the Colorado Principles of Professionalism and the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. “These values require attorneys always to act competently, civilly, and with integrity and to commit themselves to the public good and to furthering the interests of justice,” according to the definition.

“These are things that you swore to [including] treating the court with the respect it’s due, and other people,” Lucero told attendees.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the September 10, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.