Judges at a panel on Tuesday defended New York state's department-by-department approach to discipline of attorneys, saying they receive fair hearings regardless of the venue.
New York leaves attorney discipline up to each of the four intermediate appellate departments, unlike many states that have a unified system.
During a discussion at the New York State Bar Association's annual meeting, Luis Gonzalez, presiding justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, said that while uniformity was a "laudable objective," justice could still be served using disparate disciplinary rules.
Some differences in the department's disciplinary rules are minor or procedural, panelists said. In the First Department, for instance, referees designated to investigate certain cases are allowed to make recommendations to the judges about the type of sanction to impose. In the Second Department they generally cannot.
Other differences are more significant.
Only two appellate divisions -- the Third and Fourth -- allow oral arguments in disciplinary cases. And all the appellate departments except the First have a diversion program for attorneys whose minor disciplinary infractions stem from alcohol or drug abuse.
Some New York attorneys have questioned whether the state bar would benefit from a less balkanized system. In a 2005 report, the New York County Lawyers Association's Committee on Lawyer Discipline suggested the disciplinary rules should be more unified.
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Judges Debate New York's Approach to Attorney Discipline