BARBARA. D. BONAR FORMER PRESIDENT OF KBA GIVEN PUBLIC REPRIMAND by KENTUCKY SUPREME COURT

Aug. 29, 2013

Excerpts from Sup. Ct. Decision in case No. 2013-SC-000335-KB

Barbara. D. Bonar issued a public reprimand for her admitted violation of Supreme Court Rule (“SCR”) 3.130-1.7(b), 1 SCR 3.130- 1.9(a), and SCR 3.130(8.3)(c). 2 The Kentucky Bar Association (“KBA”) states no objection to the proposed discipline, which was negotiated pursuant to SCR 3.480(2).

Finding a public reprimand to be the appropriate discipline for her misconduct, we grant Bonar’s motion.

The initial class representatives, Greg Harvey and Maria Caddell, ultimately opted-out of the class action, electing instead to have Bonar proceed with their individual claims against the Diocese. Eventually, Bonar successfully negotiated settlements on behalf of Harvey and Caddell. All of this occurred while Bonar was still co-counsel in the class action suit.
Over time, Bonar expressed dissatisfaction with her role in the class
action litigation and the fee arrangement. In early 2004, Bonar moved to
withdraw as counsel from the class action citing a conflict of interest arising
from a change in the composition of the class.
The Special Judge appointed for the class action and fee dispute held that Bonar
was not entitled to any fee, finding that she committed numerous ethical
violations during the course of her involvement in the Diocese litigation. 4 The
decision to deny Bonar an attorney fee was upheld by the Court of Appeals,
and recently affirmed by this Court.
On January 28, 2010, the Inquiry Commission issued a four-count
charge against Bonar alleging that she violated SCR 3.130-1.7(b), which
provided that “a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that
client may be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another
client, a third party, or by the lawyer’s own interest”; SCR 3.130-1.9(a), which
prohibits a lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter from
representing another person in the same or substantially similar matter; SCR
3.130-1.16(a)(1), which provides that a lawyer shall withdraw from
representing a client if the representation will result in a violation of the Rules
of Professional Conduct; and SCR 3.130-1.3, which requires a lawyer to act
with reasonable promptness and diligence. Bonar admits that her conduct
violated SCR 3.130-1.7(b) and SCR 3.130-1.9(a), but moves this Court to
dismiss Counts III (SCR 3.130-1.16(a)(1)) and IV (SCR 3.130-1.3) as redundant.
Bonar served as the President of the Kentucky Bar Association from July,
2008 to July, 2009. On July 24, 2008, Bonar sent letters to four members of
the Ethics Committee of the KBA notifying them that their terms had ended on
June 30, 2008, when in fact, those members’ terms were not set to expire until
2009 and 2010. The four affected members shared, either individually or
through their law firms, personal and professional connections with Chesley
and/or the class action suit against the Diocese. When faced with the
allegations of misconduct, Bonar asserted that the dismissals were based on
her mistaken belief that the members’ terms expired in June of 2008.
Given Bonar’s continuing fee dispute with Chesley at the time of the
members’ removals, the KBA Board of Governors authorized an independent
investigation into the propriety of the dismissals. The investigation revealed
that Bonar made a series of false and misleading representations concerning
her knowledge and actions relating to the controversial dismissals.
She further misrepresented the content of conversations with KBA
4
officers and staff members regarding the removals and other related matters.
In letters and emails written in August of 2008, Bonar claimed that she was
unaware of any “problem” with the dismissals until she received a letter from
one of the “former” members on August 7, 2008
Bonar informed various KBA officers and staff that her decision to remove one of the members
was based on a recommendation of a Bar Governor who claimed that the
dismissed member was untrustworthy.. Additionally, Bonar provided
misleading information to the KBA investigator as to the character of an alleged
request for information concerning the dismissed members’ terms, and how
and whether that request was communicated.
The KBA states no objection to Bonar’s motion for a public reprimand, which was negotiated pursuant to SCR 3.480(2). The parties have filed a joint motion to impose costs in the amount of
$22,500.00.

Bonar’s motion for public reprimand was reviewed and approved by
the Chair of the Inquiry Commission and a Past President of the Kentucky Bar
Association before submission to this Court.

(LAWREADER NOTE: This suggests that the Board of Governors did not approve this public reprimand….)

While Bonar’s conflict of interest is arguably the most serious violation in
her consolidated file, her admitted violation of former SCR 3.130-8.3(c) arising
out of her conduct as KBA President is deeply troubling. When the allegations
of ethical misconduct were levied against Bonar, KBA policy prohibited her
from sitting on disciplinary cases. Following the KBA investigation, the Board
mandated that Bonar seek consent and approval from the KBA Board of
Governors or Executive Committee for any further committee appointments or
removals.

Previous disciplinary actions against Kentucky bar association officers are
distinguishable from Bonar’s case, 7 and there is an absence of legal authority
in other jurisdictions concerning a bar president’s misconduct while acting in
his or her official capacity. There is no doubt that Bonar’s actions and
subsequent brazen misrepresentations harmed the integrity of her office and
adversely affected KBA operations. A public reprimand is certainly warranted.

For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds the proposed consensual
discipline to be appropriate and declines further review. SCR 3.480(2).

Leave a Comment:

*