Who Is Jayne Kim, Controversial Head of Cal Attorney Discipline?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 07, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California State Bar Board of Trustees announced in December that it would be appointing Jayne Kim to a second four-year term as chief trial counsel, the state bar's top prosecutor position. The chief trial counsel is responsible for investigating and prosecuting attorneys for professional misconduct, overseeing more than 200 employees and a $40 million budget.

But Kim is a contentious choice for reappointment, after employees in the Office of Chief Trial Counsel overwhelmingly voted "no confidence" in her leadership in October. Here's some background on Kim and the controversy behind her.

Kim's Rise to Top Prosecutor

Kim is a native Mid-Westerner, having grown up in Wisconsin and attended law school at the University of Minnesota. But she fled the frozen north for California -- a smart choice -- and started her career as a public defender in Los Angeles. After her work as a P.D., Kim joined the state bar as a disciplinary prosecutor, before leaving to work as an assistant U.S. attorney, handling cybercrime, mafia, and intellectual property cases.

Kim was first appointed as interim chief trial counsel in 2011, when the office was in turmoil. A 2009 state audit found terrible inefficiencies in the bar's disciplinary system, which then Governor Schwarzenegger cited as a justification for denying a proposed bar fee raise. In 2010, little improvement had been made. High-ranking prosecutors were ousted and the previous chief trial counsel resigned.

Scandal in the Chief Trial Counsel's Office

When Kim took the job, she promised to establish a "zero/zero goal" -- getting the disciplinary backlog down to zero, while adopting a "zero tolerance" approach to attorney misconduct. The bar's CTC office is still a bit far from achieving those goals. A June, 2015, audit found that the bar hadn't been transparent about its disciplinary caseload and that it had offered lenient settlements to lawyers in order clear the backlog.

Bar leaders pointed the finger to the bar's previous executive director, Joe Dunn, while praising Kim's work, The Recorder reports. The State Bar terminated Dunn in November of 2014, in part because of an internal complaint filed by Kim.

But workers in the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel don't view Kim as blameless. On worker recently submitted a whilesblower report, condemning Kim's "disregard for her responsibilities, inadequate performance," and "dishonesty."

Dissatisfied employees, including attorneys, investigators and legal secretaries, gathered in October, when 66 percent voted "no confidence" in Kim.

The California State Bar seems unswayed, however. The trustees reappointed Kim by a 14-1 vote. "Ms. Kim is totally committed to public protection," State Bar President David Pasternak said in an announcement from the bar. "It is noteworthy that the six current and former prosecutors on the board, who collectively have over 100 years of prosecutorial experience, are among her strongest supporters."

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