Former State Bar Chief Loses Whistleblower Case Against the California State Bar

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 23, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ending years of litigation against the largest state bar association in the nation, an arbitrator has thrown out a whistleblower case against the California State Bar by its former executive director.

Joe Dunn, who is also a former state senator, alleged that the bar association fired him for reporting problems with the agency's chief trial counsel and for accusing the state bar of wasteful spending. The arbitrator denied Dunn's claims and concluded the bar had good reason to fire him.

Edward Infante, with a private arbitration service, said Dunn failed to keep the board informed on "matters of significance," including the California Supreme Court's opposition to proposed legislation on unauthorized practice of law. Infante also found that he had not -- contrary to Dunn's assertions -- spoken to the high court about significant administrative matters.

Alleged Manipulation

Dunn sued in November 2014, alleging he was fired for reporting that former chief trial counsel Jayne Kim manipulated the size of the bar's backlog of disciplinary cases. He also sued Craig Holden, the state bar president at the time, for his "part of an effort to usurp executive authority in the state bar."

"It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that Sen. Dunn has been compelled to bring this action against the State Bar of California, an organization that he has loyally served for four years," the suit said.

"However, given the glaring injustices, unethical conduct and massive cover-up that has crippled the state bar's ability to function, this action has become necessary to restore the public trust and confidence in the state bar, to restore the integrity of the organization, and to vindicate Senator Dunn's rights."

Lost in Stages

Dunn lost his case in stages, as the court ordered it to arbitration under the parties employment agreement. Infante dismissed the claims against Holden in January, then threw out the remaining claims against the bar association this week.

State Bar president James P. Fox said the bar is happy to put the matter to rest.

"The state bar is pleased with the resolution to this litigation and is happy to move forward," Fox said in a statement. "We remain focused on the core mission of the bar, which is the protection of 39 million Californians and upholding the highest ethical standards for the state's legal community."

The California bar, with about about 190,000 practicing attorneys among its 250,000 members, is the largest mandatory bar association in the country.

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