Lawsuits against California State Bar and State Move Forward, Court Rules

By Robert J. Hansen

ANAHEIM, CA – A motion to dismiss a case filed against the State of California, State Bar of California, former State Bar Board of Trustees Chairman Ruben Duran, Senior Trial Counsel Eli David Morgenstern, Assistant General Counsel Suzanne Grandt and attorney Kenneth Catanzarite was denied in an Orange County Superior Court last month.

Defendants in the case associated with embattled attorney Catanzarite also tried and failed to strike allegations of bribery and corruption, punitive damages, and the historical pattern of Catanzarite’s unscrupulous legal practices concealed by the State Bar.

The Vanguard has previously reported these patterns.

The state case, filed by Justin Beck, alleges malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unfair business practices as well as constitutional violations by Duran, Morgenstern and Grandt. It also alleges continued negligence against the State and State Bar for employee conduct.

The Court of Appeal agreed in a detailed July 2022 opinion that plaintiff Beck in the state case is likely to be successful on at least his malicious prosecution claims in trial. It found three civil suits were maliciously filed against Beck by Catanzarite without probable cause.

An answer is due to the state complaint from Catanzarite next week, Dec. 20, and amended allegations were filed against State, State Bar, Duran, Morgenstern, and Grandt Nov. 20.

The amended allegations clarify claims brought against State Bar’s Duran, Morgenstern, and Grandt in their capacities for alleged fraud and corruption. If successful, it is unknown if the State Bar will indemnify them from personal liability.

Beck’s case argues the State Bar knew about disgraced attorney Thomas Girardi’s influence on State Bar in 2014 but concealed a related investigation by Munger Tolles & Olsen from the public – and how State Bar is acting similarly with Catanzarite now.

Factual allegations include former State Bar Board of Trustees Chair Duran’s involvement in malicious prosecution as well as filing a fraudulent antitrust petition in California Supreme Court on Oct. 18, 2022, which The Vanguard previously reported.

The case also alleges Catanzarite’s bribery of Senior Trial Counsel Morgenstern in exchange for protection, and Assistant General Counsel Grandt’s filing of knowingly false statements of fact and law in Superior Court.

Grandt exhibited similar behavior in another case where a judge in the Northern District Court of California in 2017 asserted, “Grandt told me something that wasn’t true, and I relied on it.”

Leaked emails between Duran and other State Bar staff about the pending litigation, Catanzarite, Grandt’s conduct and General Counsel Ellin Davtyan’s attempt to intimidate Beck to destroy the evidence was also reported by The Vanguard.

Text messages between Beck and California Attorney General Rob Bonta revealed senior staff members (Michael Redding and Venus Johnson) were assigned to investigate alleged securities fraud, extortion, racketeering and perjury involving Catanzarite.

Beck told Bonta he is a witness and victim of sophisticated, multi-layered fraud and racketeering in CA affecting dozens of individuals.”

“I’ve forwarded your info to a DOJ team member for follow up,” Bonta replied.

A later text, Beck asked Bonta that in light of the State Auditor revealing that the Bar is failing to protect the public, if there was someone specific he could send details to Bonta’s staff.

“Please send (it) to my Chief Deputy Attorney General Venus Johnson,” Bonta told Beck.

The DOJ was not able to be reached for comment about this.

As state and federal litigation was pending against him, Duran was recently replaced as State Bar Chair by Brandon Stallings in August 2022 only days after The Vanguard covered prior FBI investigations centered on corruption in Adelanto, CA where Duran was city attorney.

At least two public officials were convicted of honest services fraud and bribery after Duran’s tenure in Adelanto, which ended in August 2018. Duran became a State Bar Board of Trustee weeks later through appointment by the legislature. Ending prematurely in September 2022, Duran’s Board term was set to expire in January 2026.

Pending against the State Bar since December 2021, litigation remains undisclosed by the State Bar in its most recent financial reports as potential liabilities despite their materiality.

Similar to a class action resulting from its protection of Girardi, state and federal claims against the State Bar filed by Beck center on its alleged ongoing protection of and collusion with Catanzarite.

Other courts have described Catanzarite’s other cases as “a sham” and that his conduct is “absurd,” that he filed a “false affidavit,” and that Catanzarite “does not care about the truth” in making statements to the Court.

Catanzarite has a documented pattern reflected by court orders and client depositions of representing multiple parties to the same disputes with impunity, and soliciting elderly clients at their homes when they aren’t seeking counsel.

After promising reform, even after the implementation of new State Bar rules, the Bar continues to fail to take disciplinary action against Catanzarite despite court orders reflecting fraud and misrepresentation, The Vanguard has learned.

Conduct of Duran, Stallings, Morgenstern and Grandt legitimately calls into question purported improvements to State Bar’s operations and its “commitment to transparency and accountability” heralded by former Chair Duran, Executive Director Leah Wilson.

In their March 22, 2023 op-ed with “State Bar: We’ve Learned from Our Past Failures,” former Chair Duran and Executive Director Wilson opine that “moral authority of a society built on the rule of law lies in the fundamental belief that it applies equally to all.”

Esteemed attorneys have been calling out the State Bar.

“The State Bar Lacks the moral authority to oversee attorney discipline,” said renowned plaintiff’s attorney Jay Edelson in reply to Duran and Wilson.

Duran and Wilson’s insistence the State Bar began reforming itself “in earnest almost a decade ago” is remarkable considering that in that decade, Tom Girardi and others at his firm stole millions of dollars of their clients’ money with impunity and unimpeded by a State Bar that,” according to Aaron May’s scathing report, “Girardi had thoroughly infiltrated and corrupted.”

Duran and Wilson responded with, “State Bar: Edelson and Tievsky Got it Wrong” as the State Bar faces similar allegations of corruption, bribery and misconduct in state and federal court.

California Supreme Court Justice Patricia Guerrero, and Senator Thomas Umber, who has led recent legislation concerning the CA State Bar, have refused requests for comment.

The State Bar has also not responded to repeated requests for comment.

In addition to the complaint filed by Beck, federal cases remain pending against the State, the State Bar, Duran, Morgenstern and Grandt in the U.S. Southern District of California centered on alleged antitrust and RICO violations.

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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