Law School Case Brief
Burton v. Mottolese - 267 Conn. 1, 835 A.2d 998 (2003)
To satisfy the requirements of due process, attorneys subject to disciplinary action must receive notice of the charges against them. In the context of attorney misconduct proceedings, the Supreme Court of Connecticut previously has stated that notice must be sufficiently intelligible and informing to advise the attorney of the accusation or accusations made against her, to the end that she may prepare to meet the charges against her. If this condition is satisfied, so that the accused is fully and fairly apprised of the charge or charges made, the complaint is sufficient to give her an opportunity to be fully and fairly heard. The Court also has explained that a hearing such as this is not the trial of a criminal or civil action or suit, but an investigation by the court into the conduct of one of its own officers, and that, therefore, while the complaint should be sufficiently informing to advise the attorney of the charges made against her, it is not required that it be marked by the same precision of statement, or conformity to the recognized formalities or technicalities of pleadings, as are expected in complaints in civil or criminal actions.
Plaintiff in error Nancy Burton, an attorney, bought a writ of error claiming that defendant in error, the Honorable A. William Mottolese, improperly concluded that Burton had violated several rules of professional conduct, and that the imposition of the sanction of disbarment violated her due process rights. Specifically, Burton claimed that Judge Mottolese: (1) violated her due process rights by failing to give her prior written notice of the charges against her; (2) lacked the authority to initiate disciplinary proceedings because such proceedings could be instituted only by filing a formal written complaint with the statewide grievance committee; (3) violated her due process rights because Judge Mottolese displayed actual bias toward her; (4) improperly concluded that she had engaged in professional misconduct; and (5) improperly imposed the sanction of disbarment.
Did the trial court violate Burton's due process rights?
The state supreme court dismissed the writ of error. The court found that the allegations of misconduct did not violate Burton's due process rights. Further, Judge Mottolese properly credited the testimony of the witnesses who testified that they did not understand that, by signing a sign-up sheet, they were authorizing Burton to file a lawsuit in their names. The court rejected the contentions that the evidence did not support the determination that Burton violated multiple rules of professional conduct. Finally, it was clear that Burton's unauthorized representation was supported by the evidence.
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