Judge Stays CA State Bar Whistle-Blower Case

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A state court judge Tuesday stayed the whistleblower action of a former state bar executive, ordering him to enter into settlement talks.
     Last November, Democratic Senator Joe Dunn sued the State Bar of California and its president Craig Holden in state court, alleging he was ousted from his job as chief executive for blowing the whistle on ethical breaches he witnessed during his four years in the position.
     As the administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, the state bar oversees about 250,000 members.
     Dunn was chief executive of the state bar from 2010 until his firing last year. He has previously represented California’s 34th Senate District in central Orange County as a California state senator.
     Dunn said that Holden fired him in retaliation for blowing the whistle on chief trial counsel Jayne Kim, who he said had removed 269 backlogged cases from internal reports to make it look like her office was more productive.
     He further alleged that the bar was failing to enforce state legislation designed to crack down on lawyer fraud.
     The bar has called Dunn’s claims “baseless” and filed a motion to compel him to arbitrate his claims.
     At a hearing in his downtown Los Angeles courtroom, Judge Mitchell Beckloff told the parties he would stay the case and ordered them to enter into mediation with Judge William MacLaughlin.
     As reported by Courthouse News on Tuesday, Dunn has filed an amended complaint that names a new defendant, Beth Jay.
     As former principal counsel to the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, Jay was instrumental in the decision to fire Dunn, he says in an April 29 amended complaint.
     The filing also seeks an order to reinstate Dunn as executive director of the state bar.
     Beckloff said he would put the case on hold pending mediation and scheduled a status conference for June 9 to consider the bar’s motion to compel arbitration.
     Dunn’s attorney Benjamin Meiselas of Geragos & Geragos said after the hearing that the case should not go to arbitration because his client’s claims related to conduct that occurred after he was fired.
     “The arbitration provision provides for an arbitration in San Francisco, right next to the state bar headquarters, with a mediator who, guess what, holds a bar card,” Meiselas said outside Beckloff’s courtroom. “The employee has to foot half the bill in a very, very expensive litigation. If you think the employee is going to get a fair shake in that arbitration, I’d be selling you a bag of goods.”
     Dunn, who says he received notice of termination as bar executive while giving a speech for the state bar in San Francisco, claims that the bar hired the firm Munger Tolles & Olson to investigate him after he blew the whistle on Kim.
     According to Dunn’s complaint, the firm had “close personal ties” to a member of the state bar’s board of trustees, Miriam Krinsky.
     The lawsuit claims that since Holden became president in September 2014, he sought to purge up to seven whistleblowers from the ranks of the state bar.
     “That purge of state bar employees, consolidating power in the hands of Holden, is unprecedented in the history of the state bar,” the 14-page lawsuit states.
     In response, the state bar issued a statement claiming that it had received a complaint from a “high-level employee” that raised “serious, wide-ranging allegations” against Dunn and the other employees.
     The bar said that it hired Munger Tolles & Olson because it conducted the investigation into Dunn and the other employees in the most “cost-effective, comprehensive, and timely manner.”
     In the statement, the bar said that it was “bewildering” that Dunn would describe himself as a whistleblower since he was an executive in charge of more than 500 employees.
     During settlement negotiations, Dunn’s lawyer Howard Miller “never once claimed that Dunn was a whistleblower,” the bar said.
     State bar representative Ronald Frank of Burke, Williams & Sorensen declined to comment after the hearing.

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