The opinion of the court was delivered by: Urbina, U.S. District Judge.
GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
This attorney-disciplinary action comes before the court on the
defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and
failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. Jeffrey M. Ford
("the plaintiff" or "Mr. Ford") brings this civil-rights suit under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Ford, an attorney proceeding pro se, alleges
that Bar Counsel Joyce Peters, Assistant Bar Counsel Traci Tait, and
Executive Attorney for the Board of Professional Responsibility Elizabeth
Branda (collectively, "the defendants"), deprived him of procedural due
process by: (1) delaying the resolution of disciplinary charges brought
against him; (2) improperly notifying Maryland's Attorney Grievance
Commission of disciplinary proceedings before the adjudication of the
charges; and (3) administering the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct in
a manner that violated Mr. Ford's rights to substantive and procedural
due process. Mr. Ford also claims that the Bar Counsel filed charges
against him with insufficient information.
The defendants now move to dismiss, arguing that the court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction and that the plaintiff has failed to state a
claim on which relief may be granted. The court will not grant the
defendants' motion on these grounds, but on the alternative argument
raised by the defendants. In short, the court will apply the doctrine of
equitable restraint and will grant the defendants' motion to dismiss on
The plaintiff, Mr. Ford has been an attorney member of the District of
Columbia Bar since 1983. See First Am. Compl. ("Compl.") ¶ 1.
Defendant District of Columbia Bar is an organization of attorneys
licensed to practice law by the D.C. Court of Appeals. See Mot. to Dis.
at 2. The D.C. Court of Appeals established the Board of Professional
Responsibility of the of Columbia Court of Appeals ("the Board"). See
id. The D.C. Court of appoints nine members to the Board, which adopts
rules and procedures, investigates allegations of attorney misconduct,
appoints Hearing Committees to conduct hearings and to submit findings,
and submits recommendations to the D.C. Court of Appeals. See id. at 3.
As the Attorney for the Board, Elizabeth J. Branda supervises staff and
assigns an attorney member of the Hearing Committee as a contact member
to review the Bar Counsel's recommendations for dismissals, informal
admonitions, and formal proceedings. See Compl. ¶ 5.
The Board appoints the Bar Counsel to act as the "disciplinary arm of
the D.C. Courts." See Anderson v. D.C Public Defender Service,
756 F. Supp. 28, 31 (D.D.C. 1991) (citing D.C. Rules Ann. Bar Rule XI.),
vacated in part on other grounds, 980 F.2d 746 (D.C.Cir. 1992). As Bar
Counsel, Joyce E. Peters is responsible for investigating alleged
attorney misconduct and prosecuting disciplinary matters before the
Hearing Committee, the Board, and the D.C. Court of Appeals. See Mot. to
Dis. at 3-4. Traci M. Tait is the Assistant Bar Counsel who investigated
the allegations of professional misconduct involving Mr. Ford. See
Compl. ¶ 7.
B. Investigations and Procedures
The Office of the Bar Counsel is responsible for processing complaints
of attorney misconduct. See Compl. ¶ 6. After the Bar Counsel
investigates allegations of misconduct, it initiates formal disciplinary
proceedings and prosecutes the case before a three-member Hearing
Committee appointed by the Board and in the presence of the attorney
charged with misconduct, i.e., the respondent. See In the Matter of
Dudley v. Williams, 513 A.2d 793, 794 (D.C. 1986). The respondent may
choose to retain counsel. The Hearing Committee then submits findings,
with the record of the proceedings, to the Board of Professional
Responsibility. See id. The Board has the option to schedule oral
arguments and can affirm, modify, remand, or dismiss the charges. The
Board then submits its recommendation and the full record to the D.C.
Court of Appeals. Upon request, the Court of Appeals may also hear oral
argument. See id. Lastly, the Court of Appeals issues a final order. See
id. The D.C. Court of Appeals will adopt the Board's recommendation,
unless it rules that the recommendation is unwarranted or unsupported by
"substantial evidence." See id.
An attorney may file an exception with the Board to the Hearing
Committee's recommendation of disciplinary action. See Mot. to Dis. at
4. In addition, if the attorney disagrees with the Board's findings, the
attorney may file an exception to the Court of Appeals. See id.
C. Mr. Ford's Alleged Ethical Violations
In March 1996, Mr. Ford filed an ethical complaint against attorney
Valerie Bailey with the Office of Bar Counsel. In this complaint, Mr.
Ford alleged that after his association with Ms. Bailey's law practice
ended, she retained client files and client escrow funds belonging to
Mr. Ford. See ¶ 8. The Bar Counsel conducted an inquiry into these
charges. See id. ¶ 10. The Bar Counsel did not issue formal charges
against Ms. Bailey, but did bring formal charges against Mr. Ford, based
on Ms. Bailey's allegations of improper client representation. See Pl.'s
Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dis. ("Pl.'s Opp'n"), Ex. 3. The Bar Counsel then
issued an informal admonition against Mr. Ford is based on the following
District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct:
1.1(a): a lawyer must provide competent to a client;
1.1(b): a lawyer must serve a client with skill and
care commensurate with that generally afforded to
clients by other in similar matters;
7.1(a): a lawyer shall not make false or misleading
communication about himself ...