PROFESSIONALISM MEDIATION PROGRAM
Designed to resolve complaints regarding unprofessional behavior on the part of attorneys, judges and court personnel. The MCBA's involvement in these matters is a good faith attempt to work with attorneys who are in conflict over professional matters, and to attempt to improve the general quality of professional life by encouraging cooperative, civil behavior. The members of the Bench/Bar Communication Committee are experienced and respected attorneys who have been selected by the Bar and charged to act as volunteer mediators, and have undergone conflict-resolution training provided by the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law.
The Bench/Bar Communications Committee will review all written complaints by members concerning Middlesex County Superior and Municipal Court Judges and personnel. All complaints will be kept confidential. Complaints received by the Committee will be referred to two attorneys to screen and evaluate. The Committee will then review the case and, if it deems advisable, the complaint will be presented to the Assignment Judge for further action. The Committee will also encourage all Judges within the County to report any incidents of attorneys acting in an unprofessional manner, which they consider worthy of further action by the Committee.
The options available to the Committee concerning complaints about lawyers include inviting the respondent to confer, either face to face or via telephone conference, with the mediators and the complainant; or in simpler cases, an exchange of correspondence in which constructive changes can be discussed.
Respondents will be advised that the Association does not claim to have any supervisory or enforcement authority over their professional behavior and that the Association’s involvement is a good faith attempt to work with attorneys, judges and court personnel who are in conflict over professional matters in order to improve the general quality of professional life by encouraging cooperative, civil behavior.
The Association is attempting to play a neutral role in these matters by seeking to engage in fact finding and counseling to eliminate the practical difficulties associated with professionalism disputes. If mediation is rejected or proves unproductive, the Association will not seek the court’s intervention.
The standards to be applied by the mediators are the Association's Code of Professionalism, and to the extent that they are applicable, the Court Rules, the Rules of Professional Conduct and common sense.
RULES OF OPERATION
1. Making a complaint
- Direct complaint, in writing, to the BBCC through Executive Director Jonathan Cowles, marked "Personal and Confidential"
- The Executive Director will deliver the complaint to the Chair of BBCC, who will decide (with telephone communication if necessary) whether the matter warrants a meeting of the BBCC
2. Processing the complaint
- If a meeting is held, a quorum of three of the five members will be required.
- The Committee will review the complaint and decide what action, if any, to take.
- If the complaint concerns a judge (Superior Court or Municipal) or court staff person:
- the matter may be referred to the Assignment Judge in writing, and a meeting with the Assignment Judge will be requested.
- Complaints about judges are not limited to Middlesex County judges, and the referral and meeting request may be with another County’s Assignment Judge.
- At the meeting, the Committee will ask the Assignment Judge to deal with the complaint, and will offer to remain involved in the matter if the Assignment Judge so desires.
- If the complaint concerns an attorney, the complainant will be advised by letter that a meeting of the BBCC will be held on the matter within 30 days.
- The complainant will be invited to attend the BBCC meeting or participate by telephone.
- The complainant will be asked whether his or name is to be held confidential or may be disclosed.
- If the complainant is a judge or court staff member complaining about an attorney, the Committee will meet only with the attorney whose behavior is complained of and recommend some action.
- Among the possible remedies the Committee may take are the following:
- A one-to-one conversation with the offending attorney by one member of the Committee;
- A meeting of the Committee with the attorney complained of;
- A recommendation for an apology, written or oral;
- A recommendation for training in the relevant area; or
- A referral to the Assignment Judge.
3. Confidentiality Policy
- The identity of complainants will remain confidential unless they authorize disclosure to the Assignment Judge or attorney complained of.
- The incidents complained of will remain confidential among the Committee members only, and will not be discussed outside the Committee and the Executive Director (who is an ex officio member of the Committee), except with the Assignment Judge for purposes of resolution of a complaint against a Judge, Municipal Court Judge, or court staff person.
- The file of each matter will be sealed after determination and retained in the files of the Executive Director for five years. A majority vote of the Committee will be required to unseal a past record.
- If the complainant consents in writing to disclosure of his/her name to the Assignment Judge or the Judge involved, and that appears to be useful in resolution of the dispute, the name may be disclosed.
- Members of the Committee, including the Executive Director, will make no comment if asked about a dispute referred to them; they will not disclose whether a complaint has or has not been made by or against any person.
4. Publicizing the procedure
- The Association may:
- Place items in the Middlesex Advocate.
- Take a one-page or half-page advertisement in the same.
- Send explanatory e-mails to members with e-mail.
- Allow Board members in large firms to publicize the procedure within their firms.
- Permit an announcement at monthly dinners by the Chair or other member of the Committee.