State Bar of California is accused of ignoring more than 100 complaints

Tom Girardi faced more than 150 complaints before State Bar took action, records show

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PublishedSunday, September 14, 2016

State Bar of California, charged with defending people accused of serious crimes, has received more than 150 complaints between 2008 and 2014, according to records acquired by The Times through a public-records lawsuit.

The bar is accused of ignoring more than 100 of those complaints.

The Times obtained the records by sending two letters, totaling more than 1,000 pages, to the bar’s executive director, attorney general Bill Lockyer and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. They are all in their 60s and have served in the State Legislature. They declined to talk about the records, saying they could affect the bar’s ability to defend people accused of serious crimes.

State Bar is accused of using the same tactics to investigate and settle cases as other law firms. By not making public the complaints it faces, the bar is accused of ignoring its ethical obligations to help people accused of serious crimes.

The bar is being sued by the Times on behalf of the state Legislature. The lawsuit alleges a pattern of conduct by the bar, which represents a small fraction of attorneys in California. Most attorneys are members, with other members providing pro bono assistance.

The bar has not denied any of the complaints. It has said the records show the bar never investigated them and that its complaints system is voluntary.

“It has been difficult for us to identify specific cases, but we do know the vast majority of our attorneys have not submitted complaints alleging wrongdoing to the Bar,” said a spokesman, Jason DeWitt. “In many cases, our attorneys have raised their concerns with the accused person, and in others there may be witnesses. We are confident that the vast majority of our attorneys have a strong interest in their clients’ cases, and we support them in those cases.”

It is also difficult to verify the complaints. A newspaper investigation described “an unusual complaint-handling system run by a small group of men,” who “do not respond to the public.”

The bar had nearly 300 complaints filed against it between 2008 and 2014, but the complaints involved only 23 people.

The bar did not respond to questions about how many people it was handling those cases for. The complaints came from people who were arrested

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