California Bar Faces New Whistleblower Case

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A former fraud investigator for the California State Bar has sued a prosecutor who headed attorney discipline, claiming he lost his job for investigating the alleged removal of 269 cases, to whitewash the Bar’s backlog.
     Former Managing Director of Investigations John Noonen sued The State Bar of California on Friday in Superior Court, taking a fresh shot at the Bar after former official Joe Dunn leveled similar charges against the Bar in a 2014 lawsuit.
     Noonen’s whistleblower complaint names the Bar’s former top prosecutor Jayne Kim as the chief architect of his ousting. Noonen claims Kim retaliated against him after she removed 269 backlogged cases from internal reports to make her office look more productive, and says she ignored cases involving attorney misconduct.
     The State Bar also is a defendant, accused of an “ongoing failure to fulfill its duty to regulate the legal profession” and sacrificing its “integrity and its principles in order to hide this failure.”
     “It is this willingness of the State Bar to do anything and everything to save face, no matter how egregious or unlawful, that has made this case necessary,” the 20-page complaint states.
     Noonen’s attorney Robert Baker told Courthouse News that the State Bar needs an “overhaul” so it can focus on its job, to “protect the public.”
     “I think the whole place has run amok,” Baker said in a telephone interview.
     He noted that the Bar voted to appoint Kim to a second term in December 2015, despite the turmoil in her office.
     “It’s insane,” Baker.
     Baker represented Thomas Layton in another lawsuit against the Bar.
     Dunn’s complaint is in arbitration in San Francisco.
     State Bar spokeswoman Laura Ernde said the Bar had not been served and could not comment on the specifics of Noonen’s complaint.
     “However, we can say that the Bar acted properly with respect to Mr. Noonen’s employment, and any suggestion that his termination was retaliatory is simply untrue,” Ernde wrote in an email.
     Noonen says in the complaint that he discovered the numbers for cases involving attorney discipline had been fudged in the fall of 2013. He says it later became clear that Kim had “deliberately misreported backlog numbers and failed to process and prosecute complaints relating to the unauthorized practice of law.”
     And he claims that Kim misreported the numbers to “fraudulently inflate her own performance and that of the Office of Chief Trial Counsel.”
     Noonen says he spent two years building a case against Kim and brought his findings to the State Bar. He says the Bar did not take action until the number-juggling was brought to the public’s attention by a negative report from the California State Auditor.
     “When it finally came to the attention of Jayne Kim in 2015 that John Noonen was the driving force behind the investigation into her misreported backlog numbers and other acts of misconduct, she and other employees of the State Bar proceeded to create and implement a systematic and well-planned campaign of retaliation against John Noonen,” the complaint states.
     Noonen says he had two meetings with attorney Nancy Solomon, who was a paid expert in other lawsuits against the Bar. Solomon is not a party to the lawsuit.
     But Noonen says that at an interview last year it was clear that Solomon was “simply on a fishing expedition in order to determine Mr. Noonen’s knowledge about Ms. Kim’s unlawful conduct so that Ms. Kim could then use that knowledge to further protect herself and her misconduct.”
     When he provided Solomon with a binder of evidence at a second meeting, Noonen says, she did not review it, but interrogated him about emails he had written about Kim.
     “The clear implication by Ms. Solomon was that Mr. Noonen had done something wrong by reporting Ms. Kim’s misconduct. It was very clear after this second interview that Ms. Solomon had no interest in uncovering the truth,” the complaint states.
     Noonen says Kim interfered with his job duties and created “numerous fraudulent performance” complaints and reports, leading to his firing on Nov. 16, 2015.
     Kim announced she would step down after a vote of no confidence and the “public outrage” that followed the news that her office had misreported the numbers, Noonen says in the complaint.
     He seeks damages and punitive damages for wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation, defamation, breach faith, and intentional interference with prospective economic relations.
     Also named as a defendant is Gilda Munoz, head of human resources for the State Bar.
     Baker and his co-counsel Derrick Lowe are both with Baker, Keener & Nahra.
     As the administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, the State Bar oversees about 250,000 members.

%d bloggers like this: