Bachman v. Statewide Grievance Committee
An attorney might not be entitled to a stay of attorney discipline proceedings, until criminal charges are resolved. The plaintiff, Attorney Rik Bachman, alleged that because he is the subject of unresolved criminal charges, if he responds to the allegations in a grievance complaint he may incriminate himself. Bachman alleged that grievance proceedings violated his constitutional rights, because they required that he waive his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in order to respond to the grievance complaint. The plaintiff requested an immediate injunction, to stay the grievance proceedings until criminal charges are resolved. The defendant, the Statewide Grievance Committee, moved to dismiss and argued that the plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative grievance procedures. The court found that although a local grievance panel found probable cause that the plaintiff violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, the plaintiff possesses the ability to present his arguments and evidence to the Statewide Grievance Committee. "Despite the plaintiff's protestations to the contrary," wrote the court, "the entire attorney discipline process has not been rendered useless or futile because the Danbury grievance panel has found probable cause against him." The administrative proceedings are not futile, because the plaintiff may assert his Fifth Amendment privilege. Courts in other jurisdictions have rejected the argument that attorney disciplinary proceedings should be stayed when criminal charges are pending. The court found that court decisions in Michigan, Maryland and West Virginia were persuasive. "Although the plaintiff in this matter can certainly invoke his fifth amendment rights when he testifies before the defendant, he is not entitled to have grievance proceedings enjoined because he has to make the difficult tactical decision as to whether to assert the fifth amendment." The court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss.