Utah Supreme Court reversed finding of professional misconduct and orders new rules be drafted to govern charges at screening panel phase of discipline cases which are not in initial notice to attorney.

Johnson v Office of Professional Conduct

Johnson appealed the Ethics Committee affirmance of the bar’s screening panel’s conclusion that he violated two rules of professional responsibility. The Court reversed. It held that there was no substantial evidence to prove a violation of Rule 1.4 as the panel’s findings were all related to failure to investigate not failure to answer calls or otherwise communicate with the client. The Court noted that the failure to investigate implicates rule 1.1 which the panel found was not violated here. The Court held there was no substantial evidence to prove a violation of Rule 1.2 as the alleged violation of communicating scope of representation was not in the original notice from Office and Johnson provided documents including a retainer agreement which clearly set out the limits on Johnson’s Representation of the client and neither the panel nor the Committee would have found a violation if the new evidence was before it. The Court expressed concern that under current rules attorneys like Johnson can be subjected to new charges and receive no real opportunity to provide evidence until appeal to the Court given the need to either ask for hearing or appeal to the Court. It therefore ordered the rules committee to propose new rules to resolve this problem.