Overview of the Florida Bar Grievance Process – Part 3 of 4
After a formal complaint is filed, the Florida Supreme Court issues an order directing the chief judge of the applicable circuit to appoint a county or circuit judge to serve as the referee, or trial judge, in the case. The referee has 180 days from appointment to file his or her report with the Florida Supreme Court. Within 60 days of the order referring the case to the referee, the referee is required to conduct a pretrial conference where deadlines will be established, such as the deadline to complete discovery and the final hearing date.
Disciplinary trials are considered neither criminal nor civil. Rather, they are quasi-judicial administrative proceedings. Although the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure apply, there are two important differences between civil and disciplinary trials. First, referees in disciplinary trials have wide discretion to admit or exclude any relevant evidence, including hearsay. Second, the Bar must prove that a disciplinary violation occurred by clear and convincing evidence, which is something less than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required in criminal cases, but more than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard typically applicable in civil cases.
Within 30 days after the conclusion of all evidence, or 10 days after the referee’s receipt of the transcripts of all hearings, whichever occurs later, the referee is required to file a report and recommendation. Among other things, the referee must include in the report: (i) a finding of fact as to each item of misconduct charged in the formal complaint; (ii) a recommendation as to whether the respondent should be found guilty of misconduct justifying disciplinary measures; and (iii) a recommendation concerning the discipline to be imposed. The referee’s report, along with a record of the proceedings, is then transmitted to the Florida Supreme Court.