Inquiry Committee, a sub-committee of the Grievance Committee of
the Mahoning County Bar Association, is comprised of 18 members
appointed for 3 year terms with 6 appointments made each year.
Its authority is to receive, investigate, consider and dispose of
attorney-client fee disputes, and in some cases, fee disputes
between attorneys. During the past 12 months the Inquiry
Committee has received 14 cases, resolving 11 to final conclusion,
with 3 pending as of June 1, 2005.
The procedure is commenced by the
filing of a written complaint with the Mahoning County Bar
Association setting forth the claimant's view of the fee dispute.
Next, a procedural form for arbitration of the dispute styled
CONSENT AND AGREEMENT form vests final authority in the Committee
to investigate and determine the fee dispute. The Chairman
of the Committee then assigns a member investigator who meets and
confers with the client and the attorney; reviews court files and
office files; and interviews, if necessary, third parties.
After investigation, a written report and recommendation is
prepared by the investigator and submitted to a quorum of the
Committee. The Chairman of the Committee votes only in case
of a tie. Each report and recommendation is thoroughly
reviewed by the Committee and a voice vote taken to accept, modify
or reject the investigator's recommendation. In some cases
further investigation becomes necessary.
Committee members each year must sign
a pledge of confidentiality regarding the proceedings of the
Committee, a commitment which is strictly followed. Over the
years, the decisions of the Committee have been fairly well
divided between decisions for the client and attorney.
Rarely, if ever, is a decision challenged in Court. However,
the Committee will not assume jurisdiction of a fee dispute if
proceedings are pending in any Court of record regarding the fee
dispute issue. To the credit of both client(s) and
attorney(s), fees either to be paid or refunded have been made as
required through the Bar Office.
James L. Messenger