How does the process work?
Ignoring a State Bar letter of investigation, besides being a disciplinable offense itself (Business and Professions Code Section 6068(i)), is usually taken as a sign of guilt warranting formal disciplinary proceedings. While you have a statutory duty to cooperate in the investigation, you are still entitled to counsel at your own expense and you may assert all constitutional and statutory privileges, including attorney-client privilege. Assertion of the attorney-client privilege is especially useful when the complainant is not a client. Additionally, you may assert the privilege against self-incrimination in matters involving potential criminal wrongdoing. It is always advisable to have competent legal counsel respond to the investigation or inquiry letter on your behalf or at least have a friendly lawyer other than yourself sign it. If you make a factual error in your response, the State Bar may consider it intentionally misleading and add a charge of moral turpitude. If your counsel makes a factually inaccurate response on your behalf, it can be explained away as a simple mistake, misstatement, or misunderstanding.
Short of closure, if you have engaged in technical or low level misconduct, and you can demonstrate little or no harm to the client or the administration of justice, you may receive a warning letter, directional letter, or enter into an agreement in lieu of discipline. By definition these alternative dispositions do not constitute discipline and depending on the wording of the question (be it insurance or a pro hac vice application) the alternative disposition may not need to be reported.
Like a district attorney's office, the OCTC has the prosecutorial discretion to determine which cases to prosecute and how to charge them. If it is determined that reasonable cause exists to support a violation, the matter will be assigned to a deputy trial counsel who will send you a letter giving you notice of OCTC's intent to issue a notice of disciplinary charges. The notice is a charging document similar to a criminal complaint and its filing commences formal disciplinary proceedings against you in the State Bar Court.
The notice of intent will inform you of your right to request an early neutral evaluation conference before a judge of the State Bar Court prior to its filing. This will give you a neutral read by a judge as to what to expect at trial and offer you one last chance to try to settle your matter with the State Bar prior to the filing of a notice of disciplinary charges. Once the notice is filed, the matter becomes public (Business and Professions Code Section 6086.1) and the notice is posted on your membership records page for the whole world to see forever.
Keeping your address current with the State Bar is extremely important because all letters and notice of charges are sent to this address. This is easy to keep current and can be done online from your membership records page at the State Bar's website:www.calbar.ca.gov. Failure to respond can result in default proceedings being brought against you. Default judgments are extremely hard to set aside because of this affirmative duty to keep your membership records address current. The concept of excusable neglect available in civil proceedings just doesn't fly because of this affirmative duty. Defaults for even the smallest transgressions lead to disbarment for failure to participate in the process.