Joe Dunn’s ears must have been burning Tuesday.
At 10:31 a.m., the former Orange County state senator, who is now running for a seat in Congress, dispatched a campaign news release touting his support by a school union.
At that very moment, 416 miles to the north, the Assembly Judiciary Committee was delving into dysfunction in the State Bar leading up to Dunn’s dismissal as its executive director in 2014.
The State Bar is a unique entity – a quasi-public agency that simultaneously acts as regulator of the state’s 200,000-plus attorneys and as a trade association that protects lawyers’ financial interests.
That dual role lies at the heart of the controversy. Dunn sued the State Bar after his dismissal, claiming that those who fired him were trying to cover up bad behavior, but an outside investigative report, which the State Bar released two months ago, accuses Dunn of deception and influence-peddling.
“Dunn’s repeated failure to provide adequate or truthful information to the board (of the State Bar) provides an adequate basis to terminate his at-will employment,” the report concluded.
Meanwhile, State Auditor Elaine Howle has castigated the State Bar for failing to protect the public from incompetent or venal lawyers during Dunn’s reign and squandering money meant to support its regulatory activities.
“Rather than using its financial resources to improve its attorney discipline system, the State Bar dedicated a significant portion of its funds to purchase and renovate a building in Los Angeles in 2012,” Howle’s report said.
Elizabeth Parker, who succeeded Dunn as the State Bar’s executive director, described it to the Judiciary Committee as “an organization in turmoil.”
She and other figures in the State Bar’s soap opera appeared before the committee because the Legislature controls its dues structure. Assembly Bill 2878 would continue dues at $390 a year but also give lawmakers the power to reduce dues, as well as increase them, and declares an intent to overhaul the State Bar’s structure.
The organization and many lawyers oppose the Legislature’s intervention, but changes in Capitol culture and law undermine its historic status.
Once, lawyers dominated the Legislature and were quite willing to have the State Bar, managed by a lawyer-dominated board, operate in a dual capacity as trade group and regulator.
However, lawyers are a small minority of today’s legislators and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision declares that state licensing bodies dominated by the industries they regulate are not immune to anti-monopoly actions.
Dennis Mangers, a former assemblyman and one of the 19-member State Bar board’s six non-lawyer members, told the committee that he and others back “deunification,” in which its trade association role would be shifted to a nonprofit corporation.
That’s a long-overdue reform, along with making the State Bar publicly accountable like other state licensing agencies.
Interestingly, a day after the Capitol hearing, Jayne Kim, whom Dunn had appointed as the State’s Bar’s top disciplinarian, abruptly resigned.