Legal Ethics

Ex-Ky. bar prez is reprimanded for 'brazen misrepresentations' in office, conflict in priest case


A former Kentucky bar president has been publicly reprimanded for “brazen misrepresentations” in office and a conflict in a priest sex-abuse case.

Barbara Bonar, whose one-year term as Kentucky bar president ended in July 2009, agreed to the sanction, imposed in a Kentucky Supreme Court opinion (PDF) issued last Thursday, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

Bonar’s ethical problems stemmed from a priest sex-abuse case in which she joined forces with—and then had a falling out with—Stanley Chesley, who later lost his law license as a result of an unreasonable fee in an unrelated case. Bonar lost a fee dispute with Chesley in the priest case and then, as bar president, she removed four people from a bar ethics committee who had ties to Chesley.

Bonar maintained she removed the committee members because she mistakenly believed their terms had expired. Those were “brazen misrepresentations,” the Kentucky Supreme Court said.

In the priest-abuse litigation, Bonar negotiated individual settlements for onetime class representatives even as she remained co-counsel in the class action, the Kentucky Supreme Court said. Then in 2004 she moved to withdraw from the litigation and, when a settlement was reached in 2006, she sued Chesley for attorney fees. A judge refused to award Bonar any fees, saying she had committed ethical violations during the class action. Among other things, the judge cited Bonar’s emails to the counsel for the diocese in which she acknowledged ties to the diocese and contacts with the media in which she portrayed the class in a bad light.

Bonar has admitted a conflict of interest during the litigation, though her conduct didn’t result in financial harm to class members, the Kentucky Supreme Court said. “While Bonar’s conflict of interest is arguably the most serious violation in her consolidated file,” the court said, her admitted misconduct as bar president is “deeply troubling.”

“Moreover, her misconduct as KBA President is apparently unique,” the court said. “There is an absence of legal authority in other jurisdictions concerning a bar president’s misconduct while acting in his or her official capacity. There is no doubt that Bonar’s actions and subsequent brazen misrepresentations harmed the integrity of her office and adversely affected KBA operations. A public reprimand is certainly warranted.”

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Ky. Bar President Faces Ethics Probe Linked to Fee Dispute in Priest Case”

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