The State Bar of California is More Concerned with Being Right than Doing Right: Why Corruption Identified by Davis Vanguard (Towery) & Edelson PC (Girardi) is a United States Issue
by Justin S. Beck, StopCorruptLawyers.com
On March 10, 2023, The State Bar of California admitted to its own corruption and bribery schemes. In an act of tone-deafness, State Bar’s press release somehow suggests the problem with this conduct (bribery, graft, corruption) is a lack of disclosure.
Chairman of The State Bar of California Ruben Duran and Executive Director Leah T. Wilson contend they’ve learned from the past after conceding to systemic failures, widespread corruption, and bribery highlighted by Thomas V. Girardi and Girardi-Keese.
On April 10, 2023, Jay Edelson and Alex Tievsky of Edelson PC courageously got it right in by op-ed to Law.com’s The Recorder: reforming The State Bar of California as currently structured is impossible.
Truth is, State Bar is engaged in a never-ending cycle of scandal and cover-up.
As to Duran and Wilson’s out-of-touch retort to Edelson and Tievsky, “when the State seeks to delegate its regulatory power to active market participants…established ethical standards may blend with private anticompetitive motives in a way difficult even for market participants to discern. Dual allegiances are not always apparent to an actor.” N.C. State Bd. of Dental Examiners v. Fed. Trade Comm’n, 574 U.S. 494, 505 (2015)
In other words, lawyers can’t be solely responsible for governing their peers. Duran and Wilson have no interest in stopping their corrupt peers: it only makes them look worse.
State Bar’s Concealment from 2014 Provides Context to Duran & Wilson Comments
Concealed from the public, in 2014, State Bar staff complained of a “disturbing lack of transparency at the highest levels within the organization” and a “five-layer chess game” leading to a Munger Tolles & Olsen investigation detailing Thomas V. Girardi’s compromise of The State Bar of California (Girardi is named 18 times).
The implications of these findings are glossed over in the now infamous “May Report.”
Truth is, the well-intended Edelson and Tievsky don’t know the half of just how bad things are now. Indeed, Duran and Wilson are tone deaf to the needs of everyday Californians.
Duran and Wilson also know exactly who I am, and why I’m writing this opinion piece.
Consider this op-ed a motion from the public in intervention.
Responding to Edelson and Tievsky, Duran and Wilson frame Edelson PC as some out-of-touch, distant entity “from their perch in a state far from ours.” But Edelson and Tievsky are among the only attorneys in the United States with the intestinal fortitude to say what we all know, and regular folks like me want to scream at the top of our lungs: The State Bar of California is corrupted beyond repair. And Duran and Wilson are complicit.
California Legislature and Supreme Court allowing this to continue is not acceptable, and Duran and Wilson’s protectionist opinions or excuses no longer matter to anyone but their State Bar cronies. Duran and Wilson cannot be trusted as their public statements show.
So what do I, an ignorant non-attorney taking on the government, know about these matters and the honorable public servants at the State Bar? More than I care to admit. And I’ve had enough. I demand sweeping reform on behalf of the United States and regular folks like me because this is not a game, and the public is suffering. I don’t care what Duran and Wilson think – their company lines should be read through a lens of damage control.
I believe bribery and corruption are pervasive at today’s State Bar, and that it continues to infect leadership, investigators, and Office of Chief Trial Counsel. I allege is occurring right now with Senior Trial Counsel Eli David Morgenstern and Catanzarite Law Corporation actors led by Kenneth J. Catanzarite, like Thomas V. Girardi. But I digress.
1) Thomas V. Girardi: Convenient Scapegoat for The State Bar of California Corruption
Edelson and Tievsky aptly point out how David R. Lira and Keith Griffin are still licensed to practice law – but Edelson and Tievsky fall into State Bar’s trap by challenging the disciplinary decisions.
That’s what Duran, Wilson, and State Bar want them to do so they can claim such decisions are State Bar’s to make (how dare they be challenged?), or that Duran and Wilson aren’t at liberty to discuss them. Convenient. This lawyer-protection mechanism was designed and entrenched through the In re Rose, 22 Cal.4th 430 decision (see Justice Brown dissent at p. 465-470) and Obrien v. Jones, 23 Cal.4th 40 (see Justice Kennard dissent at p. 63).
Truth is, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin already deemed Girardi’s conduct (intertwined with Lira and Griffin) as “unquestionably criminal” and “a stain on the legal profession” November 2, 2022, by Court order. One day later, State Bar issued a mea culpa November 3, 2022 – about forty years too late. “We can never let something like this happen again,” said Duran (as he was letting something like that happen again to me and others).
Duran and Wilson conveniently contend in retorting to Edelson and Tievsky: “we cannot speak to the specifics of those [Lira and Griffin] matters.” But I can.
If lawyers are engaged in “unquestionably criminal” conduct according to a federal judge – they should face immediate suspension pending the result of any “investigation.” Period. Practicing law is a privilege. Lawyer rights are not greater than the public (quite the opposite).
Similarly, current Assistant General Counsel Suzanne Grandt should have faced immediate suspension for lying to federal judge William Alsup who said, “Ms. Grandt told me something that wasn’t true, and I relied on it.” What does it say about the current leadership of State Bar that Suzanne Grandt was promoted for this conduct, and remains in this role?
Thomas V. Girardi, Walter Lack, and Paul Traina were previously involved in a scheme to defraud the Dole Fruit Company of $489 million (See In re Girardi, 611 Fed. 3d 1027) years before Girardi was indicted on wire fraud charges in February 2023 with Lira. “Those matters” are described by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and were disclosed to me in public records requests, together with a mound of fraud by Kenneth J. Catanzarite.
The Girardi story is not about Girardi. It’s about The State Bar of California’s corruption and decisions of California Supreme Court and Legislature in continuing to ratify the same. Girardi is just an easy scapegoat, while Lira, Griffin, Catanzarite, and others are protected.
2) Statistical Anomalies from State Auditor Reveal 700+ Attorneys Treated Differently
On March 22, 2023, Duran and Wilson quote “[t]he moral authority of a society built on the rule of law lies in the fundamental belief that it applies equally to all.” This is rhetoric.
California State Auditor Report 2022-030 reveals there to be at least 700 attorneys who received four or more “private letters” when State Bar was noticed of public injuries. Similarly, at least 700 attorneys were disciplined in other States, but not in California. More than 1/3rd of cases analyzed by the auditor involved conflicts, and other cases featured no disclosures whatsoever of conflict checks. What law is equally applied, here?
At the risk of making this opinion piece about me, I’ve been victimized by a law firm and its principal I compare to Girardi based on the veracity and longevity of the conduct and the findings of Courts in relation thereto. What is clear: Kenneth J. Catanzarite is protected by The State Bar of California because he is wealthy, white, and has political and law enforcement connections just like Thomas V. Girardi. $ame old, same old with State Bar.
I describe this in my two antitrust lawsuits pending in U.S. Southern District of California against The State Bar of California, Ruben Duran, Suzanne Grandt, Eli David Morgenstern and others: 3:22-CV-01616-AGS-DDL and 3:23-CV-0164-AGS-DDL. My lawsuits are concealed from the public, California State Auditor and there exist no GAAP-compliant, material contingent liabilities detailed in third-party audit by MGO as of April 28, 2023.
3) The Thomas V. Girardi State Bar of California Scandal is Only Beginning to Unravel
If you read the “May Report” disclosed on March 10, 2023 by State Bar – you’ll find a “CTC1” whose name is not disclosed. That individual is none other than James Towery, who served as president of State Bar in 1995-1996 and was appointed to head the discipline system July 2010. Chief Trial Counsel Towery resigned July 2011.
On the way out, Towery said, “he had led his team to adopt “a number of initiatives that I believe have advanced the cause of public protection.” These comments are eerily similar to the “real progress” heralded by Duran and Wilson in 2023.
Towery left his role as Chief Trial Counsel of State Bar only to later serve on the bench in Santa Clara Superior Court.
Thanks to investigative reporting from Davis Vanguard by Robert J. Hansen and Susan Bassi, on April 19, 2023, a California Courts Newsroom headlines “Silicon Valley Judge Retires Amid Disclosure Scandal,” reading “Santa Clara County has announced the termination of the controversial Bench-Bar-Media-Police Committee (BBMP), and that the committee’s most recent chairperson, Judge James towery, will officially retire from the bench on May 17, 2023.” And another State Bar crony bites the dust.
Separately, Brandon Lowry of Law360.com reports The State Bar of California’s immediate past chair Sean SeLegue, prior to Ruben Duran, is now under investigation for his “undisclosed Girardi tie.” Bear in mind he served through December 2022.
What will we read about Ruben Duran and Leah Wilson in a year, other than their alleged role in concealing two federal cases lying in RICO and antitrust? (If I have anything to do with it, the public will learn a lot about them: visit StopCorruptLawyers.com to learn more).
4) “Real Progress” Cited by State Bar Shows Absolutely Nothing But More Lip Service
According to State Bar, Duran, and Wilson, “real progress has been made.” State Bar appointed a Chief Trial Counsel, George Cardona, who has “implemented a new system for prioritizing cases presenting the greatest risk of harm to the public.” State Bar now studies “patterns of complaints.” State Bar has “implemented robust policies and procedures to identify and act on conflicts of interests and gifts” while “mandating frequent reporting.” Color me unimpressed by this “real progress” that has yet to change anything.
Let’s go to the tape, because this legalese is no different from prior promises from persons similarly situated to Duran and Wilson.
The promises we review from Duran and Wilson today are virtually identical to those made for the last twenty years. I’ve included quotes and links to auditor reports below.
In a December 1903 address to Congress, President Teddy Roosevelt said “[t]here can be no crime more serious than bribery. Other offenses violate one law while corruption strikes at the foundation of all law…The exposure and punishment of public corruption is an honor to a nation, not a disgrace. The shame lies in toleration, not in correction.”
Shame on California for allowing this to happen for so long, to so many innocent people.
· The public and attorneys must be granted unfettered access to file in “State Bar Court” so the status quo of State Bar’s protecting rich, powerful, white attorneys is disrupted.
· Legislature cannot grant any increase in fees to State Bar – revenue mandates must arise from the imposition of fines, restitution, and costs through “State Bar Court.”
· Courts of Appeal must be made available for review of State Bar Court decisions, and as alternative for discipline via writs ruled on as a matter of law – not favors.
· Resources presently wasted on OCTC staff can be re-allocated to “State Bar Court” and Courts of Appeal can be funded as needed by Legislature for new caseload.
It’s time to rip the bandages off and fix it, now.
It’s time to disbar The State Bar of California as we know it today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin S. Beck is an entrepreneur in Oceanside, California, now legal reform advocate. Opinions expressed are his own. Justin was targeted by Catanzarite Law Corporation and its principal Kenneth J. Catanzarite in a fraudulent scheme commencing September 14, 2018. After learning Kenneth J. Catanzarite, Nicole Marie Catanzarite Woodward, Tim James O’Keefe, Brandon Woodward, and Jim Travis Tice of Catanzarite Law Corporation are protected by The State Bar of California similarly to Girardi-Keese, Thomas V. Girardi, David R. Lira, and Keith Griffin – Justin sued The State Bar of California under Government Claims Act in Superior Court and under RICO/antitrust laws in U.S. Southern District of California. The State Bar of California, Ruben Duran, and other staff purport to have absolute immunity from any and all claims – including from bribery, fraud, and corruption allegations in their individual capacities. Justin owns and operates StopCorruptLawyers.com, where he publishes research and updates, and which regularly receives third-party evidence concerning operations of The State Bar of California under Duran and Wilson’s leadership.
CITATIONS FROM CALIFORNIA STATE AUDITOR
· Report 99039, it “[d]eveloped a complaint prioritization system that allows staff to address the most serious disciplinary cases first” and it “[i]ncreased the amounts it charges disciplined attorneys to recover discipline costs.”
· Report 2002-030, it “[m]ade further changes to reduce its backlog of disciplinary cases” but needs to “[e]nsure that polices and procedures for processing disciplinary cases are being followed.”
· Report 2005-030, it “[d]eveloped a checklist for case files and adopted a policy to spot check active cases…staff have not consistently performed the spot checks,” and it “[o]btained additional legal authority to collect money related to disciplinary cases, but needs approval of administrative procedures before it can implement the new authority.”
· Report 2007-030, it “[c]ontinues to await approval of additional authority to collect money related to disciplinary cases, but does not expect the new authority to significantly increase collections in the short term” and it “[n]eeds to continue improving its processing of disciplinary cases by consistently using checklists and conducting random audits.”
· Report 2009-030, it “cannot measure its efficiency or identify where to reduce cost because it does not track expenses by key disciplinary function,” also “[i]t discovered an alleged embezzlement of nearly $676,000 by a former employee,” and “[r]elatively simple changes to its billing procedures would probably yield additional revenue that could offset some of its increased disciplinary costs.”
· Report 2011-030, it “has poor monitoring procedures for ensuring case managers appropriately send reports of participants’ noncompliance to disciplinary bodies,” and “[i]t does not adequately ensure that case managers treat all noncompliance issues consistently.”
· Report 2015-030, it “reduced its backlog of disciplinary cases, the severity of the discipline it imposed on attorneys who failed to fulfill their professional responsibilities decreased,” and it “spent $76.6 million to purchase and renovate a building — $50 million more than it estimated.”
· Report 2015-047, “Its Lack of Transparency Has Undermined Its Communications With Decision Makers and Stakeholders.”
· Report 2017-030, “State Bar assigns purchasing cards to nearly 38 percent of its employees, with monthly credit limits ranging from $5,000 to $75,000…and has no process for documenting changes to credit limits.”
· Report 2020-030, “[i]n 2016 the State Bar reorganized the staffing for its discipline system in response to a review of the system prompted by a requirement established in state law. However, from 2015 through 2020, case processing times for the investigative phase of attorney discipline cases increased by 56 percent, and the backlog of cases increased by 87 percent. These delays allow attorneys under investigation to continue practicing law while their cases are pending, increasing the potential for harm to the public. Moreover, the State Bar has not effectively monitored the impact of its reorganization because it does not adequately measure the performance of its discipline system staff.”
· Report 2022-030, “[w]e reviewed files for one attorney who was the subject of 165 complaints over seven years, many of which the State Bar dismissed outright or closed after sending private letters to the attorney. Although the volume of complaints against the attorney has increased over time, the State Bar has imposed no discipline, and the attorney maintains an active license. The State Bar dismisses about 10 percent of all complaints using nonpublic measures such as private letters, which did not deter some attorneys we reviewed from continuing to engage in similar misconduct.”