Fired California bar official said he tried to expose wrongdoing

Executive director of State Bar of California files suit same day his firing is announced

The ousted executive director of the State Bar of California sued the lawyer’s group Thursday, saying he was fired because he tried to expose "egregious improprieties" by bar officials.

Joseph Dunn, a former state senator from Orange County, ran the bar from 2010 until last week, when he said he was fired without explanation. The bar announced his departure Thursday, shortly before Dunn filed his suit in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Dunn said in the suit that he had been one of a group of anonymous whistle-blowers who had complained to the bar’s trustees about alleged improprieties shortly before his firing. A law firm gave the trustees the whistle-blowers' complaints this month.

The bar, funded by lawyer fees, is responsible for lawyer licensing and discipline and for overseeing the state's 249,000 attorneys.

Dunn said in his suit that the whistle-blower complaints alleged “ethical breaches, prosecutorial lapses and fiscal improprieties" by State Bar President Craig Holden, some bar trustees and the bar’s chief trial counsel.

The lawsuit said that Dunn was fired because he had been identified as one of the whistle-blowers and that Holden had orchestrated the ouster.

Holden, a Los Angeles lawyer who was elected bar president in September, submitted “irregular expense accounts” to the bar and sought to usurp executive authority in a bid to eventually become executive director, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit says that one of the trustees had a longtime personal relationship with a lawyer in a firm that was paid $300,000 to investigate Dunn. The investigation was launched after a bar official whom Dunn had accused of misconduct filed a complaint against Dunn, according to the suit.

Dunn said he had received glowing performance evaluations, and his contract had been extended last year to 2016.

“It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that Sen. Dunn has been compelled to bring this action against the State Bar of California, an organization that he has loyally served for four years,” the suit said.

A spokeswoman for the bar declined to comment on Dunn’s firing or the suit.

The Recorder, a legal newspaper, reported that Dunn's tenure was “marked by tumult and turnover.” The paper said Dunn had fired four veteran prosecutors in 2011.

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