By SUDHIN THANAWALA Associated Press
Jan. 11, 2015

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The former executive director of the California organization charged with rooting out lawyers who cheat clients or botch cases says he was fired after reporting that disciplinary files were deliberately being removed to make its case backlog appear smaller.

The State Bar of California counters that Joseph Dunn, who is also a former state senator, was terminated after it received “serious, wide-ranging allegations” against him.

The internal warfare at the nation’s largest state bar is reviving criticism that its disciplinary system is weak and lets bad attorneys off the hook.

Some say the episode shows a broken, dysfunctional institution that needs restructuring to properly police its more than 249,000 members.

“The state bar for the last generation has been a completely dysfunctional organization,” said Peter Keane, a former state bar vice president who teaches at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. “It seems to survive somehow, but … it gets worse with each iteration.”

To practice law, attorneys must be members of the bar, a public corporation created by the state legislature. The bar collects yearly dues that largely fund its operations.

In November, Dunn — an ex-Democratic lawmaker from Orange County — was removed from his $259,000 executive director’s post after four years. Within days, celebrity attorney Mark Geragos filed a lawsuit for Dunn alleging “glaring injustices, unethical conduct and massive cover-up that has crippled the State Bar’s ability to function.”

Dunn said Jayne Kim, the bar’s chief prosecutor, altered reports to understate the backlog of disciplinary cases and make her office look more productive. She removed 269 cases from September 2013 reports to a board of trustees’ committee and used them to post false and misleading information on the state bar’s website, the suit alleged. Dunn also said Kim was failing to enforce a recent state law intended to prevent lawyers and people posing as lawyers from defrauding immigrants, and he accused the bar of wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars by hiring an outside firm to investigate him.

Kim, through a state bar spokesman, declined comment.

The bar is investigating allegations against Kim, Acting Executive Director Robert Hawley said. The bar has been working vigorously to educate the public and partnering with law enforcement authorities to root out immigration fraud, Hawley said.

Two days after Dunn’s lawsuit, the bar said in a statement that the action was baseless and Dunn never identified himself as a whistleblower.

Instead, the bar said it had received unspecified complaints against Dunn, at least one from an unnamed high-level employee. It also defended use of the outside firm, saying bar officials determined the firm’s proposal would allow the investigation to be done in the “most cost-effective, comprehensive and timely manner.”

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