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Ex-Bar Director Files Whistle-Blower Action

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - In a whistle-blower lawsuit filed Thursday, former Sen. Joseph Dunn says the State Bar fired him as its executive director for exposing malfeasance and "egregious improprieties."

Dunn, who was fired on Nov. 7, claims he was targeted after he discovered that the bar's chief trial counsel, Jayne Kim, removed 269 backlogged cases from official reports released to the public in order to make her office appear more productive.

Dunn is represented by Mark Geragos in Los Angeles.

"We wouldn't have filed this case if we didn't think there was egregious conduct going on at the State Bar," Geragos said.

The lawyer noted that Dunn's fellow whistleblowers are afraid of retaliation. "They figure if they're going to blow the whistle that their employment is at risk," Geragos added. "They're very brave to stand up against what I consider to be outrageous, unethical and illegal conduct at the State Bar."

He said Dunn was not available for comment Thursday.

Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the complaint names the bar and the bar's newly installed president, Craig Holden, as defendants.

Shortly after Holden took office in May, says the complaint, he began telling people he wanted "to do something about Dunn," who had worked as executive director since 2010.

Upon learning of Dunn's concerns with the activities at the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, Kim complained about Dunn, according to the lawsuit.

Her internal complaint led to an evaluation "conducted at exorbitant expense to the membership of the State Bar," said Dunn. He was at no point provided with a copy or summary of her complaint

In early November, Dunn and several other bar employees lodged complaints about Kim's conduct with the bar's board of trustees.

Within two days, Dunn was fired.

His lawsuit points out that Kim's alleged misconduct occurred just as the bar is about to undergo an audit.

"The California Bureau of State Audits is set to conduct its biannual audit of the State Bar in 2015. Rather than hold Ms. Kim and the OCTC accountable for its actions as Senator Dunn encouraged, the State Bar has terminated Senator Dunn and taken adverse actions against other whistleblowers for bringing this issue to their attention," said the complaint.

This investigation cost bar members more than $300,000, according to Dunn.

His lawsuit says the State Bar used a private law firm with close ties to one of the bar's trustees, Miriam Krinsky, even though a retired former California Supreme Court Justice had offered to conduct a pro bono evaluation.

Krinsky was a member of the Judicial Council from roughly 2009-2012. The council decides on rules and budgets for California's vast court system. During a period of intense turmoil in the council's staff roughly two years ago, Dunn was under consideration to direct the staff, then called the Administrative Office of the Courts.

One of the merits to his possible ascension to that post was his knowledge of the Legislature where the administrative office had been severely criticized over its handling of public funds, including a disastrous software project. Dunn served as a California state senator representing Santa Ana in Orange County from 1998-2006.

In Thursday's lawsuit, Dunn said, "The retention of the private firm, in addition to being an utter waste of State Bar membership dues, violated State Bar protocol."

"Three billing partners from the private firm that were put on the 'evaluation' each billed in excess of $800 per hour," said the complaint. "The current billable hours for the services rendered by that private firm likely exceeds $300,000."

Dunn says he was given his 30-day termination notice on Nov. 7 while he was giving a speech for the State Bar in San Francisco. Holden allegedly said he couldn't speak to the press, or risk losing his severance pay.

The State Bar has not announced a search for a new executive director, Dunn's lawsuit notes, adding that Holden plans to take the job himself.

Dunn is seeking damages and injunctive relief reinstating him as executive director, or at the very least, an order to show cause why he should not be reinstated.

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