Submitted: November 17, 2016
Sanjeev Lath and Barbara Belware, self-represented parties,
F. DeVito, general counsel (Brian R. Moushegian, deputy
general counsel, on the brief), for the attorney discipline
Devine, Millimet & Branch, Professional Association, of
Concord (Mitchell M. Simon and Joshua M. Wyatt on the brief),
for John F. Bisson.
petitioners, Sanjeev Lath and Barbara Belware, have
petitioned for a writ of certiorari, see Sup. Ct. R.
11, challenging the decisions of the Office of General
Counsel of the Attorney Discipline Office (ADO) and the
Complaint Screening Committee (CSC). The ADO had dismissed a
grievance filed by the petitioners against Attorney John F.
Bisson. Upon the petitioners' request for
reconsideration, the CSC affirmed the ADO's decision. In
their petition, the petitioners argue that the ADO and the
CSC erred by declining to docket their grievance as a
complaint, and that the CSC erred by failing to answer the
questions raised in the petitioners' request for
reconsideration. The respondents-the ADO and Attorney
Bisson-challenge the merits of the petitioners' claims,
and also assert that the petitioners lack standing to bring
this petition. Because we conclude that the petitioners lack
standing, we dismiss the petition.
begin by providing background regarding the attorney
discipline system. Pursuant to our rule-making authority
under the State Constitution, see N.H. CONST. pt.
II, art. 73-a, we have established an attorney discipline
system to discharge our inherent and statutory authority to
discipline attorneys, Petition of Brooks, 140 N.H.
813, 817 (1996); RSA 311:8 (2015); RSA 490:4 (2010); see
also Sup. Ct. R. 37, 37A. "[T]he purpose of
attorney discipline is to protect the public, maintain public
confidence in the bar, preserve the integrity of the legal
profession, and prevent similar [mis]conduct in the future .
. . ." Bosse's Case, 155 N.H. 128, 131
attorney discipline system is governed by the Supreme Court
Rules, see Sup. Ct. R. 37, 37A, and has
"disciplinary jurisdiction" over "[a]ny
attorney admitted to practice law in this State, "
Sup. Ct. R. 37(1)(b). The standards of conduct for
New Hampshire attorneys are set forth in the New Hampshire
Rules of Professional Conduct. N.H. R. Prof. Conduct
Statement of Purpose. An attorney may be disciplined under
the Supreme Court Rules if it is determined by clear and
convincing evidence that the attorney violated the Rules of
Professional Conduct. See Young's Case, 154 N.H.
359, 366 (2006); see also Sup. Ct. R.
the responsibilities of the ADO is to conduct an initial
review of a grievance submitted by an individual. See
Sup. Ct. R. 37A(II)(a)(2)(A), (3)(A). A grievance is a
written submission that "call[s] to [the ADO's]
attention conduct that the grievant believes may constitute
misconduct by an attorney." Sup. Ct. R.
37A(I)(c). When a grievance is filed, the ADO reviews the
grievance to determine whether the attorney in question is
subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the attorney
discipline system and whether the grievance meets certain
other enumerated requirements. Sup. Ct. R.
ADO concludes that a grievance satisfies those requirements,
it dockets the grievance as a complaint-otherwise, the
grievance is dismissed. Sup. Ct. R.
37A(II)(a)(3)(C), (5)(A). If the ADO declines to docket a
grievance, the grievant may file a request for
reconsideration. Sup. Ct. R. 37A(II)(a)(4)(C). The
request is reviewed by the CSC, id., a nine-member
panel composed of five attorneys and four
"non-attorneys, " Sup. Ct. R. 37(5)(a).
The CSC must either "affirm the decision of the [ADO] or
direct that the grievance be docketed as a complaint."
Sup. Ct. R. 37A(II)(a)(4)(C). Once a grievance is
docketed as a complaint, the respondent attorney must file an
answer to the complaint, and the ADO may conduct a further
investigation "as may be appropriate." Sup. Ct.
R. 37A(II)(a)(5)(C), (a)(6).
Turning to the present petition, the record reflects the
following facts. On December 30, 2015, the petitioners filed
a grievance with the ADO. The petitioners' grievance
arises out of the annual meeting of the Oak Brook Condominium
Owners' Association, which took place in November 2015.
The petitioners are unit owners at Oak Brook Condominium.
Attorney Bisson represented the condominium association at
the meeting. The petitioners allege that, during the meeting,
Attorney Bisson violated the Rules of Professional Conduct
by, among other things, recording the meeting without the
petitioners' knowledge or consent.
reviewed the factual allegations in the petitioners'
grievance, along with the exhibits that the petitioners
provided. On January 15, 2016, the ADO's assistant
general counsel sent a three-page letter to the petitioners,
in which he reviewed the allegations, assessed the claimed
violations, and explained the reasoning that led to his
conclusion that "a hearing panel would not likely find
clear and convincing evidence that" Attorney Bisson
violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. Regarding the
claim that Attorney Bisson made a recording without the
petitioners' knowledge or consent, he noted that one of
the petitioners' exhibits showed that, in fact, the
meeting had not been recorded. Based upon the analysis of the
petitioners' allegations, the ADO declined to docket the
petitioners' grievance as a complaint.
petitioners filed a request for reconsideration, asserting
that their grievance satisfied the requirements for docketing
and that the ADO erred by dismissing their grievance. In
their request, the petitioners listed a number of alleged
errors in the ADO's decision, which they labeled
"[q]uestion[s]." In a letter dated February 25,
2016, the CSC informed the petitioners that it had affirmed
the ADO's decision. The petitioners then filed a
"Motion for Clarification" with the CSC, asking
that the CSC answer the questions that the petitioners had
raised in their request for reconsideration. The CSC
responded to the motion ...