Prominent Attorney: California State Bar Goes after Little Fish, Lets Big Fish Swim Away; Former Admin Law Judge Charges Bar May Be ‘Corrupt’

PC: Cedric Letsch
Via Unsplash

By Robert J. Hansen

LOS ANGELES – A nonprofit for California State Bar oversight, and Jay Edelson—an attorney who turned in a fellow attorney—were joined by former federal administrative law judge Mary Elizabeth Bullock and all recently spoke on the record to the Vanguard about the ongoing issues surrounding the State Bar and its failure to discipline attorneys who rip off their clients.

Judge Bullock presided over the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which she successfully sued in 2006 for discrimination.

Bullock, a former law professor at the University of San Diego, lost her vision through multiple sclerosis (MS).

The Supreme Court of California disbarred her in 2009 on the recommendation of State Bar Trial Attorney Eli David Morgenstern after what Bullock said were completely false, unfounded and unsubstantiated charges by him.

“You’d think the EEOC, the nation’s largest civil rights agency, would know how NOT to get sued for discrimination and retaliation but (it) went after one of its administrative law judges”, Bullock said in a phone interview.

Losing counsel for the EEOC, John Sherlock III, then filed a meritless complaint with the State Bar in apparent retaliation according to Bullock.

“I knew that the counsel for the EEOC had contacted the State Bar and concocted this whole story about me,” Bullock said. “They made up a whole bunch of lies about me.”

Bullock maintains Chief Trial Counsel Morgenstern made up lies to get her disbarred. “I was horrified.” Judge Bullock said. “It just broke my heart.”

Bullock said she never was afforded Due Process by the State Bar, while Morgenstern and Sherlock III talked routinely.

Another alleged victim of Morgenstern and the State Bar who lost over $ 1.2 million entrusted to a high profile attorney for a segregated interest-earning client trust, Nancy Carlson, found The Consumer Bar, a couple of years ago performing public oversight of the State Bar discipline system and the rules of conduct applicable to attorneys and client trusts.

Carlson claimed Morgenstern represented he pursues low-level “easy” complaints, not prominent firms and attorneys.

“Effectively he said that he doesn’t take on prosecuting high-profile litigators and members from big name firms. We were gobsmacked at how bad the State Bar was functioning, if not corrupt,” Carlson said.

The California State Auditor has submitted years of reports to the legislature confirming the State Bar’s failure to process cases and discipline its members, according to Carlson.

“And they haven’t solved the big problem yet. Complex and verified complaints get assigned to new- hire lay investigators by Morgenstern who then fail to review complaint evidence filed and issue quick denial letters for him bearing egregious errors, omissions and misrepresentations.” Carlson said.

Carlson added, “They simply issue case-closed denial letters misstating the complaint and citing only the Respondent’s response..without providing it to the victim (as required in all civil and criminal court proceedings) so the complainant can reply and impeach Respondent’s false representations.

Chicago plaintiff attorney Edelson is the founder of Edelson PC, the law firm that turned in attorney Thomas Girardi to a federal judge, citing millions in missing settlement money for airline crash victims.

Girardi was recently indicted on wire fraud charges by federal grand juries in two states for allegedly swindling more than $18 million from clients, as reported in the L.A. Times. The State Bar conceded on March 10, 2023, that its staff had accepted bribes to protect Girardi.

Edelson told the Vanguard that the State Bar threatened one of his partners who is licensed in California.

“Unbelievably, as they were doing nothing to investigate the lawyers at Girardi Keese,” Edelson said. “They told us—after we were pushing for them to recuse themselves and appoint a special prosecutor—that we had exposure since we might not have exposed the crime scheme early enough. That’s the same Bar that was paid by Girardi to conceal the fraud.”

The plaintiff’s Bar needs to usher in a new era of reform, according to Edelson.

“You’d think there’d be enough deterrents but there are only deterrents if the Bar[s] … would start taking licenses away,” Edelson said on the podcast Lawyers Behaving Badly in March. “And they’re just not.”

Edelson echoed Carlson and Bullock’s claims the State Bar prefers to discipline small law firms and private attorneys while allowing attorneys like Girardi, Catanzarite and other well-resourced attorneys to essentially steal from the public.

“They pick on the small guys … often it’s minority attorneys or people who just don’t have the same voice so it looks like they’re doing stuff,” Edelson said. “And then the real big fish they let keep swimming.”

University of San Francisco law professor Carol Langford said the State Bar would rather go after single attorney firms and attorneys with less money than to prosecute wealthy attorneys.

“The truth of the matter is … if they were working for a big firm, those people would be putting in 12 hours a day and those cases would be worked,” Langford said in a recent interview with the Vanguard. “They’d rather go after someone little like me.”

Retaliation is nothing new for the State Bar.

Suzanne Grandt was promoted to Assistant General Counsel after lying to federal judge William Alsup in a suit brought by attorney Ty Clevenger. A July 20, 2017 transcript reveals Grandt willfully told the judge “something that wasn’t true, and [he] relied on it.”

The Vanguard recently reported Anaheim attorney Kenneth Catanzarite was sanctioned $37,800 for attorney misconduct by an Orange County Superior Court.

Catanzarite allegedly harassed real estate professional Todd A. Mikles and his various business interests for nearly 10 years, initiating more than 17 lawsuits, arbitrations, adversary actions, and other claims, including this matter, against Mikles and companies that he manages or controls in various State and Federal Courts, Bankruptcy Courts, and arbitrations.

Mikles’ financial losses have been in the millions of dollars. 

Catanzarite is seemingly one of several attorneys the State Bar of California appears to be protecting as it previously apparently protected Girardi, note critics.

It has yet to discipline or hold Catanzarite accountable despite repeated violations of rules of professional conduct shown by court orders and Bar complaints. 

Morgenstern is in charge of Catanzarite’s cases, too.

Morgenstern’s Supervising Attorney in June 2021 was Anand Kumar, according to emails. “I am the supervisor for Ms. Nunley and Mr. Morgenstern,” Kumar said on June 30, 2021.

Kumar said the State Bar would investigate several Court of Appeal decisions showing misconduct of Catanzarite, but Morgenstern later reversed Supervising Attorney Kumar’s decision in November 2021 claiming the Catanzarite investigation had been “abated.”

Morgenstern instead directed the victim, Justin S. Beck, to collect evidence for the State Bar.

Earlier reporting by the Vanguard revealed a May 2022 email from State Bar Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona to Chair of the State Bar Board of Trustees Ruben Duran explaining why the Bar has taken no disciplinary actions against Catanzarite. 

“There were pending civil matters that involve substantially the same misconduct that is at issue in the State Bar matters,” Cardona wrote to Duran. “The civil matters charged Catanzarite and other  attorneys with the law firm with committing additional potential acts of professional misconduct.”

Those discipline cases arose from Catanzarite filing six separate lawsuits for and against Cultivation Technologies. Inc. (CTI) and Mobile Farming Systems. Inc. (MFS) – with Catanzarite playing both sides of the fence at the same time under Morgenstern and Cardona’s watch.

Morgenstern is named in several lawsuits against the State Bar and Catanzarite. The Vanguard obtained a second amended complaint in one case in the U.S. Southern District of California centered on State Bar, Morgenstern, Grandt, and Duran’s alleged conduct with Catanzarite.

Beck told the Vanguard, “I have used all of these purported processes of the State Bar represented to protect the public, and learned that the State Bar protects the bad actor attorneys above all—no matter the harm. The State Bar is, for all intents and purposes, a protection racket.”

Morgenstern could not be reached for comment.

This is part of the rolling investigation into the failure of the California State Bar’s discipline practices.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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