Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, November 14, 2014


Page 1


Dunn Out as Executive Director of State Bar, Files Suit




Joseph L. Dunn has been fired as executive director of the State Bar of California after four years in the post, and is suing the State Bar and its president.


State Bar Executive Director

The trustees said yesterday in a statement:

“The State Bar of California announced today that the employment of State Bar Executive Director Joseph Dunn will end upon the expiration of a 30-day notice pursuant to his employment contract. Dunn is no longer acting as executive director, and the State Bar Board of Trustees has directed President Craig Holden and Deputy Executive Director Robert Hawley to exercise immediate executive oversight of the State Bar on an interim basis.”

Dunn yesterday filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, naming Holden and the State Bar as defendants. Dunn claims that he was fired last week for exposing ethical breaches in the attorney disciplinary process.

The former legislator said Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim filed an unfounded internal complaint against him when he reported irregularities in the way her office was reducing the backlog of cases.

Outside Counsel

Holden referred a request for comment on the suit to San Francisco attorney John Keker, who confirmed that he had agreed to represent the State Bar and its president. 

Keker declined to discuss specifics, but said he felt “comfortable defending against” the allegations, which he called “exaggerated.”  Dunn could not be reached, and the Sacramento Bee reported on its Capitol Alert blog that his home phone number had been disconnected.

Holden explained that Hawley, not he, will be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the State Bar, and that his immediate focus will be on the naming of an interim executive director and the commencement of a search for a permanent successor to Dunn.

Holden added that the State Bar has a closed meeting scheduled for Thursday and an open one for Dec. 1, both in Los Angeles, and that the hiring of an interim executive director would be one of the topics for discussion.

Dunn’s tenure has been marked by a number of controversies, including a state audit that was somewhat critical of the group’s contracting practices and issues regarding the disciplinary system.

Past Problems

The executive director and the organization’s chief trial counsel, James Towery—a former State Bar president—had both been in office less than a year when Towery resigned. He cited the difficulties of commuting from his home in Santa Clara County to the San Francisco office, but there were reports at the time saying it would have been difficult for him to win confirmation from the state Senate, where Dunn once served.

Within days of the resignation, Dunn fired four of the top executives who had been working under Towery, an event referred to by a longtime employee as “barmageddon.” Dunn said at the time that he was “given a mandate to change the way the State Bar does business” when he assumed the agency’s top spot, and that Towery’s departure “offered an opportunity to make that assessment within” the Office of Chief Trial Counsel.

Dunn’s time at the helm was also marked by the collapse of a years-long effort to update the Rules of Professional Conduct. Dunn announced this past August that the State Bar would no longer be seeking approval of changes it had previously proposed, and the Supreme Court in September issued an order formally rejecting those proposals and directed the State Bar to create a new rules commission, to report by March 31, 2017.

Dunn was a member of the Senate from 1998 to 2006, representing the 34th Senate District in central Orange County, and led the state’s investigation of the Enron scandal. He also served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and as a member of the California Judicial Council during his last year in the Legislature.

Barred by term limits from seeking a third term as a senator, Dunn sought the Democratic nomination for state controller in 2006 but lost to the ultimate winner, John Chiang, in the primary. He went on to spend three years as executive director of the California Medical Association and then established The Senators’ Law Firm with former Sen. Martha M. Escutia in Santa Ana a few months before he took the State Bar position.  

Dunn was previously a partner in the Newport Beach law firm Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson, where he was involved in a number of major tort cases, including suits silicon breast-implant makers, manufacturers of the diet drug Fen-Phen and makers of allegedly defective medical devices.

He graduated with honors from the College of St. Thomas and from the University of Minnesota School of Law before being admitted to practice in 1986.


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