Legal Ethics

Ky. Bar President Faces Ethics Probe Linked to Fee Dispute in Priest Case

The president of the Kentucky Bar Association is facing an ethics probe for her conduct in a priest sex-abuse case, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

The newspaper says the bar association has confirmed the investigation of its president, Barbara Bonar. It is based on May 2007 findings by a senior judge hearing a fee lawsuit brought by Bonar against other plaintiffs’ lawyers in the priest sex-abuse case. The judge, Robert McGinnis, refused to award Bonar more than $9 million in fees she had sought from lawyer Stan Chesley and other attorneys.

McGinnis said Bonar improperly negotiated settlements for individual clients while serving as class counsel and after she withdrew in 2004, according to the Courier-Journal account. He also said she improperly worked to drum up negative publicity in the case.

The story cites an affidavit that says Bonar persuaded a plaintiff in the sex-abuse case to file a bar complaint against Chesley. The affidavit was one of three documents provided by an anonymous source that elaborate on Bonar’s anger with Chesley. The newspaper confirmed their authenticity with their authors or their lawyers.

Bonar told the Courier-Journal through her lawyer that she acted ethically and in a legally proper manner. She has appealed the ruling by McGinnis.

Bonar removed eight members of the bar’s ethics committee in July after she became bar president, the newspaper says in a separate story. The terms of four of the members had not expired, and all had links to Chesley. Bonar later switched course, saying the four members had been removed in error and inviting them to remain on the committee.

Bonar said she had made new appointments to add variety and diversity to the ethics committee.

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