The $15 million wrongful termination lawsuit (Oehler v. The State Bar of California et al., case number BC610699, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles) that hit the State Bar of California echoes allegations made by the bar’s former executive director pointing towards rampant ethical violations. Plaintiff Sonja Oehler’s LinkedIn profile lists her previous title as the bar’s former administrative specialist. Rather than being let go from her position for a lack of ability or dedication to the job or a necessary reduction in staff, Oehler alleges that she was fired from her job because she knew too much about rampant ethical violations: deceit, deception, incompetence and falsification of issues on the part of the bar.
Details of Alleged Ethical Violations Specifically Mentioned in the Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Include:
A director required to attend a three hour hearing in San Francisco demanded that the bar cover the costs for a four day stay at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. The bar agreed to pay.
A board member’s reimbursement claim for close to $30,000 denied by Oehler was later paid out of state bar funds.
Terminations because individuals were supposed “friends” of the prior leader of the bar (i.e. former executive director Joseph Dunn who sued the bar in 2014).
Former executive director, Joseph Dunn, alleged in his 2014 lawsuit that there was a massive cover-up of unethical practices on the part of the bar and that he was fired for exposing the problem. He also alleged that Jayne Kim, the bar’s chief trial counsel, purposefully purged the public backlog in order to inflate her own productivity. Additionally, Kim allegedly failed in her duty to prosecute unlicensed lawyers who preyed on immigrants; even after legislation was passed prohibiting the practice. In December, the bar said that a judge has agreed to appoint an arbitrator to come to a resolution in the Dunn suit.
Kim is also named in Oehler’s suit (as a defendant). In Oehler’s suit allegations indicate that Kim allowed the backlog of discipline cases to pile up until they were out of control and then moving 181 of the cases into a “deferred” state allowing the backlog to be reported without them. Once reported, the “deferred” case statuses were moved back to active. Oehler described the action as a “scam.”
Allegations make in the suit also claim that Kim dismissed ethics complaints made against herself when they should have been sent to an outsider that could address them impartially. It is also alleged that the bar failed completely to open hundreds of complaints regarding unauthorized practice of law resulting in fraud against Mexican nationals seeking U.S. citizenship.
Oehler alleged the acting executive director, Robert Hawley, retaliated against lawyers who attempted to provide wrongfully terminated employees with assistance.
Oehler’s suit seeks $10 million in financial losses due to her wrongful firing and an additional $5 million due to the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Oehler claims fraud, misrepresentation by the state bar (and other listed defendants), and deceit. As per these allegations, Oehler’s suit seeks punitive damages (not to exceed 10x damages due from wrongful termination and emotional distress).
Legal representation for the bar states that the bar denies the allegations made by Oehler. They believe that the lawsuit holds no legal merit. They plan to address the allegations in the “appropriate forum.”
If you have questions regarding wrongful termination or how to file a wrongful termination lawsuit, please get in touch with the experienced southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.