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MCLE Self-Assessment Test

Kim formally steps into top prosecutor’s job

By Amy Yarbrough
Staff Writer

As interim leader of the State Bar’s prosecution unit, Jayne Kim helped to wipe out a persistent backlog of attorney misconduct cases. In late May, she officially became the agency's newest chief trial counsel.

Jayne Kim

On May 23, the Senate Rules Committee unanimously confirmed Kim to a four-year-term as the State Bar's top prosecutor. Kim, 43, had been in that job on an interim basis since September, when she was hired to bring change to the Office of Chief Trial Counsel, which had been long criticized for the length of time it was taking to resolve cases.

Kim said she took the job because she wants to ensure the office has steady leadership to tackle other goals that lie ahead, including the transition to a new case management system.

“There needs to be stability and consistency,” Kim said. “It’s definitely challenging, but I think we are seeing some positive changes.”

Executive Director Joe Dunn said there's no question that hiring Kim, a former bar staff prosecutor and assistant chief trial counsel, was the right decision.

“When we brought Jayne back to the bar last year, we said there was a new discipline sheriff in town,” Dunn said. “As everyone can now clearly see, it wasn't just hyperbole."

Roughly three years ago, the State Bar was the focus of a state audit that found inefficiencies in its discipline system. The audit was cited as a key factor in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto of the 2010 dues bill.

Under Kim's leadership, however, bar prosecutors eliminated a large and long-standing investigatory backlog of complaints pending for more than six months without leading to either dismissal or the filing of formal charges. At the end of 2010, more than 1,200 active investigations fell into that category. Within a year, there were just eight, all of which were being handled by outside examiners.

Other strides were made as well.

The office significantly reduced its backlog of post-investigation matters awaiting the filing of formal charges or resolution. At the end of 2010, there were 822 post-investigation complaints at least six months old. At the end of 2011, that number shrank to 188, a historic low.

During her first few months on the job, Kim hired contract and temporary employees to help reduce the office backlog. Since then, she has revamped training for new staff members and instituted mandatory trial skills training for veteran employees. Kim also made a number of improvements to the office's organizational structure, including moving to a vertical model of prosecution, in which each case is assigned to a single attorney from investigation through prosecution.

Kim said the vertical system has allowed for more uniform handling of cases.

A graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, Kim was a deputy public defender, then spent nearly eight years with the State Bar before leaving to take a job with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Kim said the decision to return to the State Bar and its accompanying challenges was a difficult one to make,  but she felt she was the right person at the right time to help with the transition.

Kim said the best part of the experience has been seeing how, despite the criticism, staff can “step up to the challenges.”

“They really held their heads up,” she said. “There’s such a renewed energy and focus on public protection.”

Editor's note: On June 11, Kim was unanimously confirmed by the full Senate.