Home > Disciplinary Process
An Outline Explaining the Disciplinary Process
- Complaint is received.
- The Rules Governing Discipline require disciplinary counsel to keep a complete and
accurate record of the investigation of a complaint.
- All complaints must be in writing (Complaint Form).
- "Anonymous" and oral complaints cannot be accepted.
- The authority of the Disciplinary Board is limited to the investigation
of complaints of misconduct against attorneys licensed to practice
law in New Mexico, attorneys specially admitted to practice law
in New Mexico by a court of this state, or attorneys admitted to
practice in other states who actually practice in New Mexico.
- The Board has no authority to look into complaints
about judges, attorneys licensed in other states, or persons
who are not New Mexico attorneys.
- The New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission is
the agency designated to investigate complaints about judges
or justices in the state of New Mexico. The Commission requires use
of specific forms which may be obtained by contacting them
at (505) 222-9353 or by making a written request to P.O.
Box 27248, Albuquerque, New
Mexico 87125-7248. Go to
New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission for more
- If you have a complaint against a
federal judge or a federal magistrate, you may obtain
information as to how to file a complaint at
Rules for Judicial Conduct.
- Complaints about attorneys licensed to
practice law in other states should be directed to the appropriate
disciplinary authority in the state where the attorney is
licensed. Click here to link to the
of Lawyer Disciplinary Agencies published on the
American Bar Association's Center for Professional
- The Board cannot become involved in a fee dispute. The State
Bar of New Mexico has a fee arbitration service for the specific purpose of addressing
such matters. Go to
Fee Arbitration for more
- Any action taken by the Board as the result of a complaint
against a New Mexico attorney would concern the attorney's license
to practice law.
- The Board is unable to change the outcome of any legal
- The Board does not represent complainants in any legal
Complaint is investigated
- A copy of the complaint is sent to the attorney.
- In almost all circumstances, even when the complaint is unclear
or possibly outside the jurisdiction of the Disciplinary Board,
the lawyer will be contacted for a response.
- If the attorney's response is inadequate to resolve the complaint,
or if the attorney does not provide a response, the matter may be
docketed for formal investigation.
- Supreme Court rules forbid the Disciplinary Board from disclosing
the attorney's response to a complainant unless it becomes part
of the record in a formal disciplinary proceeding.
- The fact that a complainant may withdraw the complaint or that
the substance of the complaint is similar to pending civil or criminal
litigation may, but will not necessarily, justify dismissal of the
- As part of the investigation of a complaint, disciplinary counsel
may interview the complainant, the attorney, and other witnesses.
- Dismissal of complaints
- If the investigation of a complaint reveals insufficient evidence
to prove misconduct, the complaint will be dismissed. The complainant
will receive a letter advising of the dismissal.
- Complaints are sometimes dismissed for the following reasons:
- Documentation provided by the attorney negates the allegations.
- The complainant did not understand the role of his or her attorney
(i.e., an attorney's refusal to call a witness that the client
suggested because testimony would not be admissible or would
not be helpful to the client's legal position, is not improper).
- The complainant did not understand the role of opposing counsel
(i.e., representing a position in opposition to that of the complainant
is not harassment).
- Lack of jurisdiction (i.e., the complainant wants a new public
defender, assistance with a legal matter, a change of case outcome,
opposing counsel disqualified, etc.).
- Docketed cases
- Once a case is docketed for formal investigation, it may only
be dismissed by disciplinary counsel with the approval of a reviewing
- During the investigation of a docketed case, records may be
- The dismissal of a docketed case may include a Letter of Caution. A Letter of Caution is not a form of discipline and does not involve
a finding of misconduct. It is intended to alert the attorney
to a problem which, if it persists, could result in a finding of
misconduct. Because a Letter of Caution is constructive criticism
for the attorney (and not discipline), the complainant is not told
of the issuance of the Letter of Caution, but still receives a letter
advising that the complaint was dismissed.
- If misconduct can be proven, a docketed case may be resolved
by the issuance of an Informal Admonition by disciplinary counsel
with the concurrence of a reviewing officer. The complainant is
informed of the issuance of such an admonition and is told that
this is a private sanction. The complainant is requested to respect
the attorney's right to privacy in the matter by not revealing the
Formal disciplinary charges
- In cases where there is evidence of more serious ethical violations
or when the attorney fails to respond to the complaint, formal disciplinary
charges are filed. The case then becomes a matter of public record,
and all pleadings filed may be viewed by appointment.
- When charges are filed, a hearing committee is appointed. The
hearing committee is usually comprised of two attorneys and one
- The Respondent attorney is served with the charges and has
twenty days to answer the charges unless an extension is granted
by the hearing committee.
- If a consent to discipline is not proposed and accepted by the
committee, a hearing will be scheduled and held within one-hundred-twenty
days. Hearings are open to the public.
- After the hearing, the hearing committee makes findings of fact,
conclusions of law, and a recommendation regarding what discipline,
if any, is appropriate.
- After the hearing committee makes its recommendation, a panel
of disciplinary board members is appointed to review the record
of the proceeding and to accept or reject the hearing committee's findings
- Either the Respondent attorney or disciplinary counsel may request
oral argument before the board panel.
- Once the board panel has reviewed the record and made its ruling
on the hearing committee's recommendation, the matter is forwarded
to the Supreme Court of New Mexico.
- The Respondent attorney may request a hearing before the Supreme
- The Supreme Court has ultimate authority over the discipline
imposed and may accept, reject, or modify the Disciplinary Board's
- Formal discipline
- Formal discipline is designed to protect the public from the
likelihood of future misconduct by the attorney and is not intended
as a remedy for the complainant. For a personal remedy, the complainant
should consult with his or her own attorney regarding options that
may be available.
- Formal discipline is a matter of public record and can be disclosed
by the Disciplinary Board if an inquiry regarding an attorney's
disciplinary history is made.
- A Formal Reprimand is a sanction that can be issued by the Disciplinary
Board. The reprimand is read to the Respondent by the Chair of the
Disciplinary Board before the entire Board and is published in
the State Bar Bulletin, a publication sent weekly to all members
of the State Bar of New Mexico and other subscribers.
- Probation may be imposed by the Disciplinary Board or the Supreme
Court and can be the sole discipline. Probation may also
be imposed with other discipline. Probation may be supervised or unsupervised.
- Public Censure is a written reprimand imposed by the Supreme
Court of New Mexico. Public censure is published in the
Bulletin and in the New Mexico Reports and Pacific Reporter, which
are permanent reports of legal decisions.
- Suspension may be imposed by the Supreme Court of New Mexico.
- An attorney's license to practice law may be suspended for
a specified period of time. When this is done, the attorney
is automatically reinstated at the end of the period of suspension,
unless objections are filed by disciplinary counsel.
- An attorney's license to practice law may be suspended indefinitely. This type of suspension usually requires an attorney to meet
specific requirements prior to reinstatement and to petition
for reinstatement. The attorney may only be reinstated by showing
that all requirements have been met and that the attorney is
fit to resume the practice of law.
- An attorney may be summarily suspended when the lawyer has
been convicted of a felony or other serious crime, when a court
has entered a judgment that the attorney is incompetent or incapacitated,
or if formal disciplinary charges have been filed and it can
be shown that a danger of substantial harm to the public will
exist if the attorney continues to practice law.
- Disbarment may be imposed by the Supreme Court of New Mexico. In New Mexico, disbarment is not permanent, and in most cases, the
attorney may seek permission to apply for reinstatement after three
years. An attorney seeking reinstatement from disbarment must show
that all conditions have been met and that he or she is fit to resume
the practice of law.
- In cases where formal disciplinary charges are pending, a Respondent
may resign in lieu of discipline. In such cases, the Respondent
must get permission from the Supreme Court and admit the truth
of the allegations in the proceeding. This does not mean that the
attorney then escapes the consequences of unethical behavior. Resignation
in lieu of discipline is equivalent to disbarment, and the attorney
would have to go through the same reinstatement process as if disbarred
in order to be able to practice law again.
Diagram of the Disciplinary