California bar files disciplinary charges against its former executive director

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State Bar of California

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The State Bar of California has filed ethics charges against the executive director it fired in 2014.

The July 5 notice of charges alleges Joe Dunn made two false and misleading claims in his capacity as executive director to the state bar’s board of trustees, report Reuters, Law360, and Courthouse News Service.

First, Dunn allegedly said there was no known opposition to a state bill that would allow the bar to seek civil penalties for the unauthorized practice of law. According to a prior, internal report prepared for the bar, Dunn failed to reveal that the chief justice of the California Supreme Court had expressed concerns about the legislation.

Second, Dunn allegedly said no state bar funds would be used in connection with a trip to Mongolia in January 2014 to help set up a lawyer oversight system. The bar spent $7,000, although a law firm repaid $5,000, according to prior coverage of the internal report.

The internal report was prepared by Munger, Tolles & Olson.

Dunn had sued the state bar over his firing, alleging that he was dismissed for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing, including a coverup of the true extent of the bar’s backlog of discipline cases. An arbitrator ruled against Dunn in 2017.

A lawyer for Dunn, Mark Geragos, told Reuters that the bar has “no basis to do this,” and the bar charges involved conflicts of interest.

Geragos sent a letter to the state bar that said Dunn had fired an assistant chief trial counsel who later became the administrator overseeing Dunn’s discipline case, according to Law360 and Courthouse News Service.

The bar says the fired chief trial counsel had recused himself from “substantive involvement” in the discipline case; Geragos counters that there is no such thing as a “substantive involvement recusal.”

“To put it simply, a lawyer’s disbarment is being demanded by someone whom the lawyer fired,” the Geragos letter says.

The letter also says a Munger Tolles lawyer now chairs the state bar’s regulation and discipline committee. The bar charges are “replete with defamatory allegations and biased evidence” derived from the law firm’s report, and there is a “blatant ethical conflict,” the letter claims.

The bar responds that the Munger Tolles report was submitted in 2014 while the Munger Tolles lawyer didn’t become chair of the discipline committee until 2021. In any event, trustees have given disciplinary prosecutors independence and the sole discretion to decide on ethics charges, the bar says.

Story updated on July 13 to add comment from the state bar.

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