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Ethics/Professional Responsibility

Apr. 18, 2024

Testy exchanges erupt in discipline trial of Joe Dunn

The trial has been ongoing, with the sides discussing wrapping up by Thursday.

Joseph L. Dunn faces disbarment over a trip he took as State Bar executive director.

For a second day, the discipline trial of former State Bar Executive Director Joe Dunn featured testy exchanges between his attorney, Mark J. Geragos, and State Bar Court Judge Yvette Roland.

Geragos called several character witnesses to testify on Dunn’s behalf, including UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. But the bar’s attorneys repeatedly pointed out these witnesses had no actual knowledge of the alleged actions that led to the charges. Joseph L. Dunn, SBC-22-O-30655.

Dunn, who led the State Bar from 2010 to 2014, faces two counts of moral turpitude for using bar funds to travel to Mongolia and misleading the bar’s Board of Trustees about it. The government of Mongolia was seeking guidance as it sought to establish its own independent system of attorney discipline.

The State Bar board fired Dunn in November 2014. He filed a whistleblower complaint accusing the agency of malfeasance. An arbitrator ruled in 2017 that the bar had committed no wrongdoing. Their dispute appeared to be over until 2022, when the bar filed the disciplinary charges.

Wednesday’s proceedings began with State Bar Special Deputy Trial Counsel Charles Berwanger questioning Miriam A. Krinsky about what Dunn told the Board of Trustees in late 2013, ahead of his 2014 trip. Krinsky served on the board from 2013 to 2016.

“He indicated state bar funds would not be used to pay for the trip to Mongolia,” said Krinsky, the executive director of the organization Fair and Just Prosecution. She added, “I would not have supported the use for State Bar funds for such an expenditure.”

Geragos then aggressively cross examined Krinsky. At one point, he called her testimony “hearsay” that was “three-levels removed” from actual knowledge of the allegations. Roland repeatedly warned him to stop interrupting Krinsky. He then read portions of the guidelines for bar spending, noting it could include items like “external outreach.”

“Would that not be things like Mongolia?” Geragos asked.

Krinsky said her understanding was that the term referred to communications with the Legislature and “other partners” in state government. She added that Dunn, who served in the California Senate from 1998 to 2006, was “very effective” at working with lawmakers.

Geragos then asked her about “tensions” and “alliances” among bar staff and the board. This drew another rebuke from Roland, who warned him he was “wasting time” with questions that were “not relevant.” Krinsky referred to a 2014 investigation conducted by Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP that found Dunn misused bar funds and misled the board.

“To me, it wasn’t about alliances or tensions,” Krinsky said. “What Munger Tolles was investigating was concerns about the actions of our executive director.”

Geragos then called a series of character witnesses. Appearing via Zoom while waiting at an airport gate, Chemerinsky testified he had known Dunn for many years. The two worked together to create UC Irvine School of Law, where Chemerinsky became the founding dean in 2008.

“I have the highest regard for Joe Dunn’s honesty, integrity and character,” Chemerinsky said. “I have no idea whether the allegations against him are true or not.”

Special Deputy Trial Counsel Edward J. McIntyre then asked Chemerinsky whether Dunn owed a fiduciary duty to the bar, like the one he would owe a legal client, even though he did not represent it as an attorney. Chemerinsky said he would. McIntyre asked it if would change his opinion about Dunn if he knew he had breached that duty.

“I think my judgement of Joe Dunn’s integrity is not likely to change based on those allegations,” Chemerinsky said, though he added that he had no knowledge of the truth of the charges beyond what he’d heard and read in media accounts.

McIntyre and Berwanger pursued a similar line of questioning with two other character witnesses. Roman M. Silberfeld, national trial chair at Robins Kaplan LLP, and Raymond P. Boucher, founder and senior partner of Boucher LLP, both testified they had a great deal of respect for Dunn but had no firsthand knowledge about the truth of the charges against him.

The hearing continued deep into the afternoon and had not concluded as of press deadline. The parties discussed wrapping up Dunn’s trial by sometime Thursday, though that will not be the end of the matter. Roland said she planned to allow the sides to submit post-trial briefs for another 21 days.

“I would assume win, lose or draw, one of us is going to appeal,” Geragos replied.


Malcolm Maclachlan

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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