Drummond v. Stahl
In Drummond v. Stahl, 127 Ariz. 122, 126, 618 P.2d 616, 620 (App. 1980), the plaintiff brought suit against opposing defense counsel based on charges of unethical conduct filed with the State Bar. 127 Ariz. at 123, 618 P.2d at 617.
The plaintiff alleged tortious interference with his privileged attorney-client relationship. Id.
The Court weighed "the possible harm to attorneys in the filing of a malicious complaint against the need to encourage the reporting of unethical conduct," and held that public policy and legal precedent required a decision in favor of extending absolute immunity to complaints to the Arizona State Bar. Id. at 126, 618 P.2d at 620.
The Court explained that granting immunity for State Bar complaints was necessary because of "'overriding public interest' that persons should speak freely and fearlessly in litigation." Id. at 125, 618 P.2d at 619.
The Court held that an absolute rather than qualified privilege applied to statements made in a complaint to the State Bar of Arizona alleging unethical conduct by an attorney.
Although when the complaint was filed, no investigation or proceedings had been instituted, the court noted that the State Bar "is an arm of the Arizona Supreme Court" and, as such, "acts in a judicial capacity in dealing with the conduct of attorneys." Id. at 126.
The court explained that granting immunity for State Bar complaints was necessary "because of an 'overriding public interest' that persons should speak freely and fearlessly in litigation." Id. at 125, 618 P.2d at 619.
In Drummond, the basis for plaintiff's claim was the allegation that opposing counsel had filed both a motion to disqualify and a complaint with the State Bar that forced Drummond to withdraw from the case. 127 Ariz. at 125-26, 618 P.2d at 619-20.
The Court held that "defamatory statements contained in pleadings are absolutely privileged if they are connected with or have any bearing on or are related to the subject of inquiry." Id. at 125, 618 P.2d at 619.
As to the Bar complaint, the court found that public policy grounds required "an absolute privilege to anyone who files a complaint with the State Bar alleging unethical conduct by an attorney." Id. at 126, 618 P.2d at 620.
The court found that "public policy demands the free reporting of unethical conduct if we are to continue to enjoy the privilege of a self-regulating profession." Id.