The Missouri Supreme Court issued a rare Friday decision that would allow a news organization to attend an attorney discipline hearing against a St. Louis lawyer charged with misconduct.
The Disciplinary Hearing Panel had previously issued a blanket order closing the proceedings against attorney Susan Hais, which was challenged by Missouri Lawyers Media. The high court said the panel can close the hearing only if it can show "good cause."
Missouri Lawyers Media's court brief said the Disciplinary Hearing Panel argued the hearing should be closed because Hais' law firm handles sensitive domestic relations cases. Hais and her firm are being accused of misconduct arising from a divorce case where she represented Jill Selsor, the wife of St. Louis attorney Robert Selsor. The discipline panel also sought to close the hearing because the matter dealt with a lawyer's reputation and "involves the sanctity of the legal profession and the public generally."
The Supreme Court said its ruling was the first interpretation of a new court rule setting guidelines for when disciplinary hearings can be confidential. St. Louis attorney Ben Lipman, who represented Missouri Lawyers Media, said the decision could help ensure future proceedings are not closed inappropriately.
In a court brief, Hais had agreed with Missouri Lawyers Media that the hearing should be open to the public and defended herself and her firm against the accusations.
"Despite their prior virtually pristine disciplinary records, (the law firm) suffered a spate of disciplinary complaints in a short time, primarily from competing lawyers or clients apparently seeking to avoid paying their bills," the brief said.
Hais was previously sanctioned and fined $25,000 in 2011 for improper procurement and use of emails in another case. The Disciplinary Hearing Panel's attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment Friday.