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Sen. Joseph Dunn appointed to top State Bar job

Joseph Dunn
Sen. Joseph Dunn

Former state Senator Joseph L. Dunn was named executive director of the State Bar last month, replacing longtime bar leader Judy Johnson, who will retire next year.

Dunn was a member of the California State Senate from 1998 to 2006, and in 2005 and 2006, served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He chaired the Senate Investigation Committee into Enron’s involvement in the 2001 California energy crisis. In 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for state controller. From 2006 to 2009, Dunn served as CEO and executive director of the California Medical Association, where he oversaw governmental affairs and advocacy activities. He left the CMA in August.

“I am honored to have been offered this position,” Dunn said. “My life commitment has been to the legal profession, and there is no better way I can think of to show that commitment than to assist the board of governors with its work at the State Bar.”

Dunn, 52, is a founding partner of The Senators (Ret.) Firm, LLP, in Santa Ana, where his practice includes litigation, legislation and regulation. Last year, he also launched Voice of OC, a local investigative online nonprofit news outlet. Dunn said Orange County was the victim of an accountability void as a result of the decline in newspaper coverage.

Prior to entering the Senate, he was a plaintiff’s lawyer in Orange County, handling products liability litigation involving defective medical devices and pharmaceuticals. He worked in the Newport Beach office of Robbins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi after law school and joined Robinson, Calcagnie, Robinson, also in Newport Beach, in 1996, where he continued to focus on products liability and complex litigation until his election to the Senate.

Dunn was lead or co-lead counsel and liaison counsel in numerous high profile, complex cases that involved tobacco, nuclear, breast implant and other medical litigation.

He graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota School of Law and was admitted to the California bar in 1986. He is a trustee for the University of California Irvine Foundation and chairs both the UCI School of Law Dean’s Cabinet and the Regenerative Medicine Leadership Council. He was a member of the Judicial Council of California and currently serves on the steering committee for the Commission for Impartial Courts.

Former State Bar President John Van de Kamp, who chaired a search committee, said Dunn is “extraordinarily well-qualified and fits the needs of the bar at this particular time.” He said the former senator stood out in a strong field of candidates and described Dunn as a fine administrator with a good understanding of the workings of Sacramento. “He has the ability to bridge any gaps we might have and deal with internal problems as well,” Van de Kamp said.

Dunn’s appointment is the third and final senior position to be filled this year, following the previous appointments of former State Bar President James Towery as chief trial counsel and Starr Babcock as general counsel.