State Bar files disciplinary charges against former director Joe Dunn

After decades of mishandling complaints against attorney Tom Girardi and revelations of weak oversight of California attorneys, prosecutors took a surprisingly aggressive step this week: they launched formal disciplinary charges against the agency’s own former executive director.

The Bar Association charged Joe Dunn with triple moral depravity stemming from his four-year tenure with the agency, which ended with his firing in 2014. The allegations could result in Dunn, a former state senator who teaches at UC Irvine Law School, losing his license to practice law.

Dunn, 63, was among a handful of legal officers with whom Girardi had close ties over the years he defrauded clients and colleagues, but the charges filed on Tuesday do not concern the now-disgraced trial attorney. Instead, they focus on untruths Dunn allegedly told the Bar Association board in 2013 and 2014 regarding proposed legislation and spending on a trip to Mongolia.

When asked why it took the Bar Association so long to file charges, an agency official noted that the matter needed to be investigated by outside attorneys due to the inherent conflicts of interest. These lawyers usually work part-time.

“We believe this case reflects the principle that all California attorneys must honor their oath, the law and the code of conduct,” said Stacia Laguna, administrator of the Bar Association’s Outside Prosecutor Program.

A lawyer for Dunn said the lengthy delay could not be justified because the conduct in question was the subject of internal investigations and extensive litigation years ago, in which the Bar Association was directly involved.

“There is no excuse for filing this disciplinary proceeding in 2022, more than eight years after the alleged events,” said attorney Ellen Pansky. She added: “The true facts will show that the charges against [Dunn] are not supported by competent evidence and will fail.”

The indictment comes as the Bar Association conducts an investigation into whether current or former officials helped agency Girardi, until recently a wealthy political leader, evade accountability. The Bar Association has publicly acknowledged that its staff have failed to properly investigate complaints that Girardi has stolen from clients over the decades.

As The Times detailed last year, Girardi maintained a pristine law license while treating bar investigators, prosecutors and others to wine-soaked meals, Las Vegas parties and rides on his private jet. Dunn was one of those who connected with Girardi, and a senior attorney at Girardi’s law firm helped him get the job as manager at the bar.

In the indictment filed this week, the bar alleges Dunn told the bar board in 2013 that no agency funds would be used to pay for a junket he took with two Girardi associates to Mongolia when he “knew that this statement was false and misleading. The bar ended up paying more than $6,000 in travel expenses.

The second charge relates to false statements he made to the board of directors about a Sacramento bill that would have allowed the agency to take civil enforcement action against persons practicing law without a license. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of the state Supreme Court, which oversees the bar association, said through a representative that she wanted “this law to be stopped.” However, Dunn told the board that there was “no known opposition” to the measure, and the board publicly endorsed it, according to the indictment.

The third count alleges that Dunn breached his fiduciary duties by making the misleading statements as executive director of the bar.

An investigation by an outside law firm commissioned by prosecutors in 2014 first uncovered Dunn’s alleged wrongdoing and raised questions about Girardi’s close ties to officials. As investigators wrote in a report submitted to the board, Dunn “made arrangements” for Girardi, who also appeared to perceive “a threat to Dunn as a threat to his possibly preferred position at the bar.”

Another attorney representing Dunn, Kimberly Casper, said: “There was no action [Dunn] made or could have taken in relation to a disciplinary matter.” Casper noted that the Bar Association Board did not vote to formally accept the factual findings in the Inquiry Report.

The bar’s board fired Dunn after the investigation, citing the Mongolia charges and the Sacramento bill, among other findings. He sued the bar association for wrongful termination, but an arbitrator eventually sided with the agency in 2017. The Bar Association launched a disciplinary investigation that year, which was eventually overseen by two San Diego attorneys, Charles Berwanger and Edward McIntyre. It would be five years before they brought charges.

In a statement, Attorney Laguna, who oversees the program for outside prosecutors, known as special deputy trial attorneys, said conflict-of-interest cases like Dunn’s are handled by “a limited pool of part-time attorneys” who have other work commitments.

“As a new administrator, I’m working to improve the timeliness of processing in the program,” said Laguna.

Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor who served on the bar association’s board of trustees during the time Dunn allegedly gave the panel false information, said that “a thorough investigation” precedes every step in pursuing disciplinary action and “these decisions are not taken lightly be taken. ”

“In this particular situation, we expect senior leaders in the public prosecutor’s office to take this fiduciary duty to both the bar and the profession very seriously,” Krinsky said. “Breach of these duties is even more important in determining whether the bar association should provide a response.”

Dunn ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016 and remains a “Special Advisor” to the Dean of UC Irvine’s School of Law, where he also teaches. A university spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday on the charges pending against Dunn.

Girardi’s company collapsed in late 2020 amid allegations that he stole millions from customers – the widows and orphans of Indonesians killed in a Boeing jet crash. His wife Erika, a star of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” filed for divorce. His creditors forced him and his company Girardi Keese into bankruptcy, and the 83-year-old was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and placed in a facility for the elderly. The Supreme Court formally stripped him of his license this month.

Bankruptcy trustees continue to seek assets to repay numerous past clients and other creditors. A bankruptcy judge last week seized $750,000 worth of diamond earrings from Erika Girardi, and on Wednesday a Chicago law firm that worked with Girardi on the Indonesian airline’s case filed a federal lawsuit for extortion of more than $55 million from one A number of Girardi’s associates, including his estranged wife, former associates and a litigation funding firm.

In the lawsuit, the law firm Edelson described Girardi and his firm as “the largest criminal racketeering enterprise in the history of plaintiffs’ law.” Among the allegations made was that Girardi corrupted the prosecutor’s office “to let it happen [him] to keep a spotless record in front of the bar and allow him to continue stealing customers.”

Dunn is not mentioned in the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-08/in-wake-of-failed-handling-of-tom-girardi-state-bar-moves-against-license-of-former-executive-director State Bar files disciplinary charges against former director Joe Dunn

Alley Einstein

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