Friday, July 8, 2011
State Bar Undergoes Shakeup as Top Trial Lawyers Are Fired
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The State Bar has undergone a massive personnel shakeup, terminating four top officials from its disciplinary section mere days after the departure of Chief Trial Counsel James E. Towery.
Deputy Chief Trial Counsel Russell Weiner and Assistant Chief Trial Counsel Victoria Molloy, Djinna Gochis and Nancy J. Watson were fired on Wednesday in what some employees are calling “barmageddon.”
Efforts to reach Towery and the terminated attorneys yesterday were unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for the State Bar said these “changes to the State Bar’s executive staff in the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel are the result of decisions to improve the State Bar’s operations.”
She explained that State Bar personnel decisions are vested in Executive Director Joseph Dunn, who took the helm of the State Bar last November.
‘Mandate to Change’
Dunn said in a statement that he was “given a mandate to change the way the State Bar does business” when he assumed the agency’s top spot. He claimed “certain changes in executive leadership are a step in the right direction,” and that the “recent departure of the Chief Trial Counsel offered an opportunity to make that assessment within OCTC.”
Towery, a past president of the State Bar, stepped down on Friday. He took over the 225-employee Office of Chief Trial Counsel last summer, although his appointment was subject to state Senate confirmation.
The Senate had one year from the date he took office to confirm his appointment, or it would be deemed rejected, and confirmation had not yet occurred when Towery tendered his resignation in mid-June.
Under Towery’s direction, the State Bar initiated several high-profile investigations and several initiatives targeted at alleged attorney misconduct, which included the creation of specialized task forces to address major misappropriations and loan modification fraud, and the launch of consumer alerts on the State Bar’s website.
The prosecutors in the Los Angeles office yesterday were mostly tight-lipped about the reorganization, and 12 reached by phone all declined to comment.
One State Bar attorney who requested anonymity remarked that the terminated individuals “were all really good people and great colleagues,” who were “knowledgeable and hard-working” veterans of the office.
The employee surmised the shake-up indicates the State Bar “wants to go in a different direction,” but it was “too early to say” what that may be. Alluding to the recent dust storms which blanketed Phoenix, the employee said, “the dust has settled, but the question is, now that the storm has passed, how it is all going to shake out.”
Morale, as a result of the restructuring, the employee said, “is fine,” since “the people here are professional enough that they’re not going to…start not performing to their capabilities.”
Since each of the attorneys fired this week was based out of the State Bar’s Los Angeles office, rumors abounded that their counterparts in San Francisco may also be in danger of termination.
San Francisco-based Assistant Chief Trial Counsel L. Jeffrey Dal Cerro yesterday downplayed such suggestion, however, remarking, “I’m here, and I expect to be here for the foreseeable future, at my desk, working away, taking care of business as I always have.” He declined any further comment.
Supervising Trial Counsel Donald Steedman and OCTC attorney Maria Oropeza—who, along with Special Disciplinary Counsel Esther Rogers, were also rumored to be in jeopardy—both declined to comment. Rogers could not be reached.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company