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Departmental Disciplinary Committee


Judiciary Law ยง 90

§ 90. Admission to and removal from practice by appellate division; character committees

1. a. Upon the state board of law examiners certifying that a person has passed the required examination, or that the examination has been dispensed with, the appellate division of the supreme court in the department to which such person shall have been certified by the state board of law examiners, if it shall be satisfied that such person possesses the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counsellor-at-law and has satisfied the requirements of section 3-503 of the general obligations law, shall admit him to practice as such attorney and counsellor-at-law in all the courts of this state, provided that he has in all respects complied with the rules of the court of appeals and the rules of the appellate divisions relating to the admission of attorneys.

b. Upon the application, pursuant to the rules of the court of appeals, of any person who has been admitted to practice law in another state or territory or the District of Columbia of the United States or in a foreign country, to be admitted to practice as an attorney and counsellor-at-law in the courts of this state without taking the regular bar examination, the appellate division of the supreme court, if it shall be satisfied that such person is currently admitted to the bar in such other jurisdiction or jurisdictions, that at least one such jurisdiction in which he is so admitted would similarly admit an attorney or counsellor-at-law admitted to practice in New York state to its bar without examination and that such person possesses the character and general fitness requisite for an attorney and counsellor-at-law and has satisfied the requirements of section 3-503 of the general obligations law, shall admit him to practice as such attorney and counsellor-at-law in all the courts of this state, provided, that he has in all respects complied with the rules of the court of appeals and the rules of the appellate divisions relating to the admission of attorneys. Such application, which shall conform to the requirements of section 3-503 of the general obligations law, shall be submitted to the appellate division of the supreme court in the department specified in the rules of the court of appeals.

c. The members of the committee appointed by the appellate division in each department to investigate the character and fitness of applicants for admission to the bar, shall be entitled to their necessary traveling, hotel and other expenses, incurred in the performance of their duties, payable by the state out of moneys appropriated therefor, upon certificate of the presiding justice of the appellate division by which such committee is appointed.

d. The committee on character and fitness appointed by the appellate division of the supreme court in the first judicial department and the committee on character and fitness appointed by the appellate division of the supreme court of the second judicial department, may each, with the written consent of the justices of each of such appellate divisions or a majority of such justices, acting for their respective appellate divisions, from time to time, appoint and remove a secretary, stenographers and assistants, and procure a suitable office for each committee, properly furnished and equipped and all books, stationery, blanks, postal cards, expressage and postage stamps as shall be required for the proper performance of the duties of each such committee.

e. The salaries of such secretary, stenographers and assistants shall be fixed for each department by the justices of the appellate division in each department or a majority of them in each department.

f. The salaries of such secretary, stenographers and assistants and the necessary expenses under the terms of this act in the first judicial department, shall, in the said first judicial department, be paid by the comptroller of the city of New York.

g. The salaries of such secretary, stenographers and assistants and the necessary expenses under the terms of this act in the second judicial department shall be certified by the presiding justice of such department to the state comptroller who shall audit the same. The state department of taxation and finance shall pay such salaries and expenses and shall apportion the same among the counties comprising the second judicial department. Such counties shall reimburse the state for such compensation. The time and method of such apportionment and the time and method of such reimbursement shall be as specified in section seventy-four of this chapter.

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2. The supreme court shall have power and control over attorneys and counsellors-at-law and all persons practicing or assuming to practice law, and the appellate division of the supreme court in each department is authorized to censure, suspend from practice or remove from office any attorney and counsellor-at-law admitted to practice who is guilty of professional misconduct, malpractice, fraud, deceit, crime or misdemeanor, or any conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and the appellate division of the supreme court is hereby authorized to revoke such admission for any misrepresentation or suppression of any information in connection with the application for admission to practice.

It shall be the duty of the appellate division to insert in each order of suspension or removal hereafter rendered a provision which shall command the attorney and counsellor-at-law thereafter to desist and refrain from the practice of law in any form, either as principal or as agent, clerk or employee of another. In addition it shall forbid the performance of any of the following acts, to wit:

a. The appearance as an attorney or counsellor-at-law before any court, judge, justice, board, commission or other public authority.

b. The giving to another of an opinion as to the law or its application, or of any advice in relation thereto.

In case of suspension only, the order may limit the command to the period of time within which such suspension shall continue, and if justice so requires may further limit the scope thereof.

If an attorney and counsellor-at-law has been heretofore removed from office, the appellate division shall upon application of any attorney and counsellor-at-law, or of any incorporated bar association, and upon such notice to the respondent as may be required, amend the order of removal by adding thereto as a part thereof, provisions similar to those required to be inserted in orders hereafter made.

If a certified copy of such order or of such amended order, be served upon the attorney and counsellor-at-law suspended or removed from office, a violation thereof may be punished as a contempt of court.

2-a. a. The provisions of this subdivision shall apply in all cases of an attorney licensed, registered or admitted to practice in this state who has failed after receiving appropriate notice, to comply with a summons, subpoena or warrant relating to a paternity or child support proceeding involving him or her personally, or who is in arrears in payment of child support or combined child and spousal support which matter shall be referred to the appropriate appellate division by a court pursuant to the requirements of section two hundred forty-four-c of the domestic relations law or pursuant to section four hundred fifty-eight-b or five hundred forty-eight-b of the family court act.

b. Upon receipt of an order from the court based on arrears in payment of child support or combined child and spousal support pursuant to one of the foregoing provisions of law, the appropriate appellate division within thirty days of receipt of such order, if it finds such person to be so licensed, registered or admitted, shall provide notice to such attorney of, and initiate, a hearing which shall be held by it at least twenty days and no more than thirty days after the sending of such notice to the attorney. The hearing shall be held solely for the purpose of determining whether there exists as of the date of the hearing proof that full payment of all arrears of support established by the order of the court to be due from the licensed, registered or admitted attorney have been paid. Proof of such payment shall be a certified check showing full payment of established arrears or a notice issued by the court or the support collection unit where the order is payable to the support collection unit designated by the appropriate social services district. Such notice shall state that full payment of all arrears of support established by the order of the court to be due have been paid. The licensed attorney shall be given full opportunity to present such proof of payment at the hearing in person or by counsel. The only issue to be determined as a result of the hearing is whether the arrears have been paid. No evidence with respect to the appropriateness of the court order or ability of the respondent party in arrears to comply with such order shall be received or considered by the disciplinary committee.

c. Upon receipt of an order from the court based on failure to comply with a summons, subpoena, or warrant relating to a paternity or child support proceeding, the appropriate appellate division within thirty days of receipt of such order, if it finds such person to be so licensed, registered or admitted, shall provide notice to such attorney that his or her license shall be suspended within sixty days of such notice to the attorney unless the conditions in paragraph e of this section are met.

d. Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of this section or of any other provision of law to the contrary, the license to practice law in this state of an attorney admitted to practice shall be suspended by the appellate division if, at the hearing provided for by paragraph b of this subdivision, the licensed attorney fails to present proof of payments as required by such subdivision. Such suspension shall not be lifted unless the original court or the support collection unit, where the court order is payable to the support collection unit designated by the appropriate social services district, issues notice to the appellate division that full payment of all arrears of support established by the order of the original court to be due have been paid.

e. Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of this section or of any other provision of law to the contrary, the license of an attorney admitted to practice law in this state shall be suspended by the appellate division, in accordance with paragraph c of this subdivision unless the court terminates its order to commence suspension proceedings. Such suspension shall not be lifted unless the court issues an order to the appellate division terminating its order to commence suspension proceedings.

f. The appellate division shall inform the original court of all actions taken hereunder.

g. This subdivision two-a applies to paternity and child support proceedings commenced under, and support obligations paid pursuant to any order of child support or child and spousal support issued under provisions of section two hundred thirty-six or two hundred forty of the domestic relations law, or article four, five, five-A or five-B of the family court act.

h. Notwithstanding any inconsistent provision of this section or of any other provision of law to the contrary, the provisions of this subdivision two-a shall apply to the exclusion of any other requirements of this section and to the exclusion of any other requirement of law to the contrary.

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3. The suspension or removal of an attorney or counsellor-at-law, by the appellate division of the supreme court, operates as a suspension or removal in every court of the state.

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4. a. Any person being an attorney and counsellor-at-law who shall be convicted of a felony as defined in paragraph e of this subdivision, shall upon such conviction, cease to be an attorney and counsellor-at-law, or to be competent to practice law as such.

b. Whenever any attorney and counsellor-at-law shall be convicted of a felony as defined in paragraph e of this subdivision, there may be presented to the appellate division of the supreme court a certified or exemplified copy of the judgment of such conviction, and thereupon the name of the person so convicted shall, by order of the court, be struck from the roll of attorneys.

c. Whenever an attorney shall be convicted of a crime in a court of record of the United States or of any state, territory or district, including this state, whether by a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or from a verdict after trial or otherwise, the attorney shall file, within thirty days thereafter, with the appellate division of the supreme court, the record of such conviction.

The failure of the attorney to so file shall be deemed professional misconduct provided, however, that the appellate division may upon application of the attorney, grant an extension upon good cause shown.

d. For purposes of this subdivision, the term serious crime shall mean any criminal offense denominated a felony under the laws of any state, district or territory or of the United States which does not constitute a felony under the laws of this state, and any other crime a necessary element of which, as determined by statutory or common law definition of such crime, includes interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, willful failure to file income tax returns, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, theft, or an attempt or conspiracy or solicitation of another to commit a serious crime.

e. For purposes of this subdivision, the term felony shall mean any criminal offense classified as a felony under the laws of this state or any criminal offense committed in any other state, district, or territory of the United States and classified as a felony therein which if committed within this state, would constitute a felony in this state.

f. Any attorney and counsellor-at-law convicted of a serious crime, as defined in paragraph d of this subdivision, whether by plea of guilty or nolo contendere or from a verdict after trial or otherwise, shall be suspended upon the receipt by the appellate division of the supreme court of the record of such conviction until a final order is made pursuant to paragraph g of this subdivision.

Upon good cause shown the appellate division of the supreme court may, upon application of the attorney or on its own motion, set aside such suspension when it appears consistent with the maintenance of the integrity and honor of the profession, the protection of the public and the interest of justice.

g. Upon a judgment of conviction against an attorney becoming final the appellate division of the supreme court shall order the attorney to show cause why a final order of suspension, censure or removal from office should not be made.

h. If the attorney requests a hearing, the appellate division of the supreme court shall refer the proceeding to a referee, justice or judge appointed by the appellate division for hearing, report and recommendation.

After said hearing, the appellate division may impose such discipline as it deems proper under the facts and circumstances.

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5. a. If such removal or debarment was based upon conviction for a serious crime or upon a felony conviction as defined in subdivision four of this section, and such felony conviction was subsequently reversed or pardoned by the president of the United States, or governor of this or another state of the United States, the appellate division shall have power to vacate or modify such order or debarment, provided, however, that if such attorney or counsellor-at-law has been removed from practice in another jurisdiction, a pardon in said jurisdiction shall not be a basis for application for re-admission in this jurisdiction unless he shall have been readmitted in the jurisdiction where pardoned.

b. If such removal or debarment was based upon conviction for a felony as defined in subdivision four of this section, the appellate division shall have power to vacate or modify such order or debarment after a period of seven years provided that such person has not been convicted of a crime during such seven-year period.

c. An attorney and counsellor-at-law who has been convicted of a felony without the state and whose name has been struck from the roll of attorneys prior to July thirteenth, nineteen hundred seventy-nine by virtue of the provisions of subdivision four of this section may, if he alleges that such felony committed without the state would not constitute a felony if committed within the state, petition the appellate division to vacate or modify such debarment. If the appellate division finds that the felony of which the attorney and counsellor-at-law has been convicted without the state would not constitute a felony if committed within the state, it shall grant a hearing and may retroactively vacate or modify such debarment and impose such discipline as it deems just and proper under the facts and circumstances.

The attorney and counsellor-at-law shall petition for reinstatement by filing in the appellate division a copy of the order of removal together with a request for a hearing pursuant to the provisions of this paragraph. Upon such application, the order of removal shall be deemed an order of suspension for the purposes of a proceeding pursuant to this paragraph.

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6. Before an attorney or counsellor-at-law is suspended or removed as prescribed in this section, a copy of the charges against him must be delivered to him personally within or without the state or, in case it is established to the satisfaction of the presiding justice of the appellate division of the supreme court to which the charges have been presented, that he cannot with due diligence be served personally, the same may be served upon him by mail, publication or otherwise as the said presiding justice may direct, and he must be allowed an opportunity of being heard in his defense. In all cases where the charges are served in any manner other than personally, and the attorney and counsellor-at-law so served does not appear, an application may be made by such attorney or in his behalf to the presiding justice of the appellate division of the supreme court to whom the charges were presented at any time within one year after the rendition of the judgment, or final order of suspension or removal, and upon good cause shown and upon such terms as may be deemed just by such presiding justice, such attorney and counsellor-at-law must be allowed to defend himself against such charges.

The justices of the appellate division in any judicial department, or a majority of them, may make an order directing the expenses of any disciplinary proceedings, and the necessary costs and disbursements of the petitioner in prosecuting such charges, including the expense of any preliminary investigation in relation to professional conduct of an attorney and counsellor-at-law, to be paid out of funds appropriated to the office of court administration for that purpose.

6-a. a. Where the appellate division of supreme court orders the censure, suspension from practice or removal from office of an attorney or counsellor-at-law following disciplinary proceedings at which it found, based upon a preponderance of the legally admissible evidence, that such attorney or counsellor-at-law wilfully misappropriated or misapplied money or property in the practice of law, its order may require him or her to make monetary restitution in accordance with this subdivision. Its order also may require that he or she reimburse the lawyers' fund for client protection of the state of New York for awards made to the person whose money or property was wilfully misappropriated or misapplied.

b. Monetary restitution, as authorized hereunder, shall be made to the person whose money or property was wilfully misappropriated or misapplied and shall be for the amount or value of such money or property, as found in the disciplinary proceedings. In the event that such person dies prior to completion of such restitution, any amount remaining to be paid shall be paid to the estate of the deceased.

c. Any payment made as restitution pursuant to this subdivision shall not limit, preclude or impair any liability for damages in any civil action or proceeding for an amount in excess of such payment; nor shall any order of the appellate division made hereunder deprive a criminal court of any authority pursuant to article sixty of the penal law.

d. An order issued pursuant to this subdivision may be entered as a civil judgment. Such judgment shall be enforceable as a money judgment in any court of competent jurisdiction by any person to whom payments are due thereunder, or by the lawyers' fund for client protection where it has been subrogated to the rights of such person.

e. Where an attorney or counsellor-at-law is permitted to resign from office, the appellate division may, if appropriate, issue an order as provided herein requiring him or her to make payments specified by this subdivision.

f. Notwithstanding any other provision of this subdivision, no order may be issued hereunder unless the person required to make payments under such order first is given an opportunity to be heard in opposition thereto.

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7. In addition to the duties prescribed by section seven hundred of the county law, it shall be the duty of any district attorney within a department, when so designated by the justices of the appellate division of the supreme court in such department, or a majority of them, to prosecute all proceedings for the removal or suspension of attorneys and counsellors-at-law or the said justices, or a majority of them may appoint any attorney and counsellor-at-law to conduct a preliminary investigation and to prosecute any disciplinary proceedings and, during or upon the termination of the investigation or proceedings, may fix the compensation to be paid to such attorney and counsellor-at-law for the services rendered, which compensation shall be a charge against the county specified in his certificate and shall be paid thereon.

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8. Any petitioner or respondent in a disciplinary proceeding against an attorney or counsellor-at-law under this section, including a bar association or any other corporation or association, shall have the right to appeal to the court of appeals from a final order of any appellate division in such proceeding upon questions of law involved therein, subject to the limitations prescribed by section three of article six of the constitution of this state.

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9. No objection shall be taken to the appointment of any member of the bar to act as referee or judge in a disciplinary proceeding under this section on the ground that he is a member of a bar association or other corporation or association which is the petitioner therein.

10. Any statute or rule to the contrary notwithstanding, all papers, records and documents upon the application or examination of any person for admission as an attorney and counsellor at law and upon any complaint, inquiry, investigation or proceeding relating to the conduct or discipline of an attorney or attorneys, shall be sealed and be deemed private and confidential. However, upon good cause being shown, the justices of the appellate division having jurisdiction are empowered, in their discretion, by written order, to permit to be divulged all or any part of such papers, records and documents. In the discretion of the presiding or acting presiding justice of said appellate division, such order may be made either without notice to the persons or attorneys to be affected thereby or upon such notice to them as he may direct. In furtherance of the purpose of this subdivision, said justices are also empowered, in their discretion, from time to time to make such rules as they may deem necessary. Without regard to the foregoing, in the event that charges are sustained by the justices of the appellate division having jurisdiction in any complaint, investigation or proceeding relating to the conduct or discipline of any attorney, the records and documents in relation thereto shall be deemed public records.

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