By Dan Walters
February 7, 2017 – 6:03 PM
The legislative skirmishing over the future of the State Bar appears to be nearing an amicable resolution.
The agency that licenses and regulates California attorneys is shedding its ancillary role as a professional trade association and adopting other reforms to quiet criticism that it had been lax in disciplining bad lawyers.
With the State Bar’s recent moves, conflict inside the Legislature over reforms is likely to subside and legislation authorizing dues to be collected from attorneys is likely to pass.
However, the State Bar is still deeply embroiled in a nasty legal dispute over how and why it fired its former executive director, Joseph Dunn, that is airing some of the agency’s dirtiest linen.
Dunn, a former state senator from Orange County who lost a bid for Congress last year, was fired by State Bar trustees in 2014 after an independent investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.
“Dunn’s repeated failure to provide adequate or truthful information to the board plainly provides an adequate basis to terminate his at-will employment,” the leaked investigatory report said.
Dunn insists that he was fired not for wrongdoing, but because he had accused the State Bar’s chief trial counsel of manipulating data about a backlog of attorney disciplinary cases. The backlog has been one of the issues cited by agency critics as they sought reforms.
The State Bar fired Dunn without cause, denying him $192,000 in severance pay. He demanded an open arbitration hearing, saying he wanted to clear his name. The trial-like hearing, which began last week, has been a forum for bitter recriminations over who did what.
Think of it this way: Lawyers fighting with lawyers, with both sides retaining other lawyers, an investigation by lawyers playing a key role, and another lawyer hearing the case.
Although little noticed by mainstream media, the hearing has been a field day for the state’s aggressive legal media.
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