Overview of The Florida Bar Grievance Process – Part 1 of 4
Attorney Consumer Assistance Program
Most complaints against Florida lawyers originate in the Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (“ACAP”). Established in 2001, ACAP was originally launched to process telephone inquiries from disgruntled parties with the goal of resolving minor disputes between clients and lawyers before they escalated into full-blown grievances. While ACAP still serves that purpose, it has now become the central intake point where virtually all complaints against lawyers are triaged. Statistically speaking, far more inquiries are resolved within ACAP than actually become part of the formal disciplinary system. Thus, ACAP provides a valuable service to both the public and the profession by sifting out matters that do not implicate the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar and do not warrant any disciplinary action.
Generally speaking, ACAP’s review of an inquiry focuses on two threshold issues: (1) Does the bar have jurisdiction over the conduct that is the subject of the inquiry?; and (2) Would the conduct, if true, constitute a violation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar? If the answer to both questions is in the affirmative, ACAP will treat the inquiry as a complaint and ask that the attorney-respondent respond within 15 days. Failure to respond to an ACAP inquiry, or any other Bar inquiry during any subsequent step in the investigatory process, constitutes a separate violation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Following receipt of the attorney’s response and any rebuttal information submitted by the complainant, ACAP may close the case or, if it determines further review is warranted, refer the case to bar counsel at one of the Bar’s branch offices.
Bar Counsel Review
The Florida Bar’s headquarters is located in Tallahassee with branch offices in Tampa, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami. After a complaint is received by the Bar, it is assigned to Bar counsel, who will conduct an independent investigation of the alleged misconduct. As part of that investigation, Bar counsel may request additional information from the complainant or respondent. If Bar Counsel determines that the allegations, even if proven, would not constitute a violation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, Bar counsel has the discretion to dismiss the case. Minor infractions that do not involve dishonesty may qualify for diversion to a Practice and Professionalism Enhancement Program. Bar counsel may also determine that the matter warrants further investigation and forward the matter to a circuit grievance committee.