Calif. Bar Ducks Whistleblower Claims

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A state arbitrator dismissed retired state Sen. Joe Dunn’s remaining retaliation and whistleblower claims against the California State Bar, putting an end to the three-year legal battle between the agency and its former executive director.

Retired U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Edward Infante said in a 20-page order issued Monday that Dunn couldn’t prove he was fired in retaliation for reporting that the Office of Chief Trial Counsel had tampered with its number of backlogged disciplinary cases. Dunn was axed by vote of the state bar’s board in 2014, after running the agency for four years.

Instead, Infante found that the bar trustees who voted to fire Dunn had done so because he made misrepresentations to the board and misused agency money to finance a 2014 trip to Mongolia.

Infante said Dunn “breached his duties to keep the board ‘fully informed’” and maintain a good relationship with the California Supreme Court when he encouraged the board to support legislation the court opposed.

Another misrepresentation involved Dunn telling the board the state’s high court was in favor of relocating the state bar’s headquarters to Sacramento when “in truth, it was not clear that the Supreme Court supported the move,” Infante said.

California State Bar President James Fox said in a statement, “The state bar is pleased with the resolution to this litigation and is happy to move forward. We remain focused on the core mission of the bar, which is the protection of 39 million Californians and upholding the highest ethical standards for the state’s legal community.”

Infante’s decision comes during a major shakeup of the state bar’s operations. After a divided California Legislature left the bar unfunded in September, the agency was forced to ask the state Supreme Court – for the first time since 1998 – for permission to charge its yearly membership fees. The state’s high court allowed the bar to collect dues only to fund its attorney-discipline system.

Since then, the bar has authorized its 16 specialty law groups to separate from the agency as it tries to clearly define its mission for the Legislature. Some lawmakers have said that its dual trade-association and attorney-discipline functions had become muddled, and encouraged separation.

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