Bar Associations

Arbitrator rules against former executive director of State Bar of California

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State Bar of California

An arbitrator has dismissed the last of the claims in a lawsuit against the State Bar of California brought by former executive director Joe Dunn.

The Los Angeles Daily Journal (sub. req.) and the Sacramento Bee reported Monday that arbitrator Edward Infante of JAMS (formerly the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services) has ruled for the state bar on Dunn’s allegations that he was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on improprieties. The ruling appears to end the contentious and high-profile case.

Dunn had sued the state bar in late 2014, alleging that he was fired for reporting that former chief trial counsel Jayne Kim manipulated the size of the bar’s backlog of discipline cases—a long-standing issue at the bar—and failed to investigate the unauthorized practice of law. He also said he was fired in retaliation for pointing out wasteful spending, and that a former state bar president had retaliated against him and other whistleblowers.

The state bar said Dunn was fired because an outside investigation by the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson found that Dunn was dishonest with the bar’s board about several matters.

Infante, the arbitrator, found no causal connection between Dunn’s comments about Kim—or anonymous letters he sent to the board—and his firing. Furthermore, he said, the state bar’s board had a legitimate reason to fire Dunn.

Because Dunn had not fulfilled the duties of his contract, the arbitrator said, firing him without severance did not breach his employment contract. Infante found that Dunn hadn’t kept the board informed on “matters of significance,” including the California Supreme Court’s opposition to proposed UPL legislation. He also assured the board that the state Supreme Court supported a plan to move the state bar from San Francisco to Sacramento. Infante found that the chief justice hadn’t spoken with Dunn about it. (The California state bar is a department of the California Supreme Court, making the chief justice its department head.)

The decision comes two months after the same arbitrator threw out Dunn’s related claims against Craig Holden, former state bar president and a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in Los Angeles. Infante said there was no evidence that Holden intentionally interfered with Dunn’s employment. Other claims were dismissed in summer 2016.

The case had originally been filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court but was moved to arbitration per Dunn’s employment agreement. Dunn had sought $4 million in damages plus $190,000 in back pay.

The state bar released a statement from James P. Fox, the current president. “The state bar is pleased with the resolution to this litigation and is happy to move forward,” Fox said in the 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.”

Dunn ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat in Orange County, California, last year.

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