A Closer Look at Dunn’s State Bar Lawsuit



Comments in the blogs and statements by people who claim close ties with particular campaigns often lead to stories.  This is one of them.

I’m sharing a comment from Democratic “activist” Paul Lucas on the Orange Juice blog from May 24 and portions of a deleted comment from “Henry Lipton” sent to TheLiberalOC on May 26.

Paul Lucas

Posted May 24, 2016 at 1:41 PM

What those mailers do not say is that the dispute between Joe and the bar is based on Joe Dunn’s highlighting the fact that Immigration attorneys are busy ripping off immigrant clients and then having those clients deported by reporting them.

That’s right, Lou Correa who loves to hold his Mexican Heritage like a badge on his sleeve is making common cause with con artists who are ripping off immigrant clients and then having them deported.

Written May 26, 2016:

henry lipton hank.lipton714@gmail.com  


(Gratuitous personal insult deleted). The Cal bar and Joe had a falling out over Joe Dunn’s whistle blowing on immigration attorneys ripping off their clients and then calling ICE on them to have them deported.

Not sure if that email address for Henry Lipton is real or fake.

So TheLiberalOC contacted the California State Bar to see if there was any truth to the claim that Dunn was a whistleblower on immigration attorneys. They report, this isn’t the case.

“The State Bar does not consider Mr. Dunn to be a whistleblower. Please note his action was brought after concerns were raised about his performance, an independent internal investigation confirmed those concerns, and he was subsequently terminated. Moreover, his lawsuit was sent to arbitration and in April, an arbitrator dismissed the claims with leave to amend,” wrote Laura Ernde, Communications Director for  The State Bar of California. “The State Bar is concerned about immigration fraud and is taking steps to improve our handling of those complaints, which are few. The overwhelming majority of complaints received are of a different nature, and the bar has made notable progress in handling all manner of complaints with greater efficiency.  For more information about immigration attorney-related complaints, see the State Bar’s Annual Discipline Report, Appendix F.”

To read the State Bar’s Demurrer, simply click here and be forewarned, it’s a long PDF. And here’s a copy of Dunn’s lawsuit filed by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos.

Under Dunn’s leadership as Executive Director, the State Bar had a poor record of penalizing bad lawyers of all stripes. In fairness, it’s a problem that was present before Dunn was hired but he certainly gave the impression of improvement over a period of three years.

This story in the San Diego Union Tribune from October 2012 spells it out:

“The state Supreme Court is taking a tougher stand on how lawyers are being punished, ordering the State Bar of California to take a second look at more than three dozen cases of disciplined attorneys.

The court’s move to turn back so many cases is unprecedented, and has sent a jolt through the state’s legal community. 

The justices did not say what it was about the misconduct cases that required additional review, but bar officials and lawyers who follow the discipline process said it is clear the court questioned whether the punishments were too lenient. 

The decision not to approve the proposed disciplines indicates the Supreme Court is moving in a new direction under Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who became the court’s leader in January 2011. 

“This is unchartered territory,” said Joe Dunn, the bar’s executive director. “The court has never done this before. What’s definitely clear to all of us in the legal profession is they are going to take a far more careful look at discipline cases under the new chief.” 

Cantil-Sakauye declined through a spokesman a request to comment about the court’s approach to punishing attorneys because the cases are pending. 

Richard Zitrin, a legal ethics professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law, said that the court was reacting to cases the bar had settled too easily while trying to clear out a backlog. 

“Too often bad lawyers get off much too easily, and relatively innocuous but easy-to-prove violations get punished too severely,” he said. The cases showed “the bar sacrificed the appropriate level of discipline for expediency. The Supreme Court was unhappy with that, and rightly so.” 

Jayne Kim was hired by Dunn in 2011 to clear the backlog of disciplinary cases at the State Bar was a star in State Bar press releases for her work:

“Executive Director Joe Dunn said there’s no question that hiring Kim, a former bar staff prosecutor and assistant chief trial counsel, was the right decision.  When we brought Jayne back to the bar last year, we said there was a new sheriff in town,” Dunn said. “As everyone can now clearly see, it wasn’t just hyperbole.” (Cal Bar Journal, June 2012).

CA State Bar issued a press release titled, “State Bar Achieves ‘Zero’ Agency clears backlog of investigations.” “Jayne and her team truly deserve tremendous credit,” said Dunn who made the so-called ‘Zero’ pledge in July 2011. “She saw what needed to be done and she redirected her resources and got it done. She’s the bar’s “new sheriff” and I have absolute confidence in her.” (CA Bar Press Release, 01/03/2012).

“Kim added that her office has already initiated significant improvements to its organizational structure and to training development. She also credited State Bar executives – led by Executive Director Joe Dunn, a former state senator from Orange County – for spearheading the right level of philosophical and operational changes needed to permanently end the backlog issue.” (CA Bar Press Release, 01/03/2012).

The next year, the bar issued another press release under the headline, “State Bar Prosecutors Kept Discipline Backlog Low in 2012.” The press release from the bar praised itself for low backlog numbers. “By maintaining a zero backlog, we are slowly showing our constituency the people of California, that we are deadly serious about meeting our regulatory responsibility,” Executive Director/CEO Joe Dunn said. (CA Bar Press Release, 01/07/2013).

When Dunn was fired, he threw her under the bus.

From his lawsuit:  “Specifically, since Senator Dunn’s original complaint was filed shedding light on Ms. Kim’s conduct, Ms. Kim has attempted to deflect blame on a data analyst working under her at the time to deflect her own perfidy.  This analyst was solely tasked with following directions from Ms. Kim and attempted to warn others about Ms. Kim’s conduct.  Further, while the State Bar has purported to conduct an ‘independent OCTC investigation’ into the conduct of Ms. Kim, it has been discovered that the lawyer running the so-called ‘independent investigation’ is actually a defense expert retained by the law firm representing Defendants in this very action.  The so-called ‘independent investigation’ is nothing more than a whitewash of Jayne Kim’s unprofessional conduct and to retaliate against those within the State Bar who have exposed Jayne Kim’s illegal, unprofessional, and unethical conduct.”

So Dunn’s speaking out of both sides of his mouth here; high praise for Kim’s work then condemnation for “unprofessional conduct.” So how hands on was Dunn at the State Bar?  If Kim was so bad, why didn’t those hallowed investigative skills he’ll bring to Congress kick in?  And if Kim was so bad, she’s Dunn’s hire.  Clearly there’s no “The Buck Stops Here” sign on his desk. And will this management style extend to Washington DC if Joe gets elected to Congress?

I struggle to understand how the senior executive for the California State Bar could be both a whistleblower while also being the person in charge of managing the operations of the entire organization.

Here’s an excerpt from the State Bar’s press release issued days (November 15, 2014) after Dunn was fired and then filed a lawsuit citing whistleblower status:

At no time prior to November 13 was Joe Dunn ever identified as a whistleblower, and he never brought any such claims to the Board.  Indeed, it’s bewildering to hear Mr. Dunn claim he is a whistleblower since as the executive who is head of the entire organization he is responsible for managing operations and the over 500 employees, and he only belatedly raised claims after he was given notice of termination of his employment agreement, and after a settlement discussion with his counsel at the Girardi & Keese firm reached an impasse on November 12.  During our entire negotiations with Howard Miller, which concluded the evening of November 12, Miller never once claimed that Dunn was a whistleblower.

An August 2014 post by lawyer Timothy D. Naegele, a member of the California State Bar and former counsel to the United States Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and chief of staff to Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal recipient and former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass), was also prophetic about the troubles facing the State Bar and how it was managed.

He wrote: “Today, I am ashamed to be a member of the State Bar; and I never thought that I would come to that conclusion.  It is like belonging to a private club that discriminates, and is run by an inbred clique or cabal.  At best, it is a third-rate trade association—and Sacramento and Washington, D.C. are full of them.

…the State Bar has done almost nothing to police abuses by lawyers in California, relating to fraud in mortgage lending and other activities.  It has wasted valuable resources pursuing “minnows,” all the while allowing the “big fish” to escape unscathed.  It has never gone after the lawyers at Countrywide who participated in and/or condoned predatory lending practices; and one of Countrywide’s lawyers even testified on the State Bar’s behalf in a predatory lending case.”

Dunn’s case against the State Bar was mostly dismissed a short time ago; he has been allowed to refile some portions of the suit on appeal but that case won’t be resolved until after the Primary election on June 7.  But to go back to Paul Lucas’ claim about the dispute between the State Bar and Dunn over bad immigration legal issues isn’t true.  None of the evidence out there suggests it.