Sunday, April 3, 2011 | 3:45 p.m.
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The State Bar of Nevada, which regulates attorneys, is itself the target of a lawsuit filed by three former employees complaining they and others were subjected to abuse and intimidation by Bar Executive Director Kimberly Farmer.
The former employees are attorneys Patrice Eichman and Tiffany Breinig; as well as Georgia Taylor.
They filed suit last week in Clark County District Court against the State Bar, a public corporation; and against Farmer.
The State Bar promptly denied the accusations, saying they amount to "griping by former employees who could not, or would not, adapt to changing work requirements."
The lawsuit, filed by three attorneys with the Las Vegas law firm Bailey Kennedy, said: "Farmer subjected the plaintiffs and other long-term employees of the State Bar to verbal and mental abuse, physical coercion and intimidation in a deranged effort to divert attention from her own incompetence."
"When Ms. Farmer's behavior was brought to the attention of the (Bar) Board of Governors, it pursued its pattern and practice of conducting a sham investigation and covering up the misdeeds of its executive director."
The suit said Taylor, the Bar's client security fund/fee dispute coordinator, took early retirement after 15 years because of the alleged verbal and mental abuse.
The suit said Eichman, the Bar's director of admissions, was forced to resign after 13 years because of the alleged abuse.
Breinig, an admissions investigator, was forced to resign after less than two years with the board due to the alleged abuse and "physical coercion at the hands of Ms. Farmer," the lawsuit says.
Breinig said this distress compelled her to seek medical treatment and that a member of the Bar Board of Governors told her "the State Bar would not respond to her complaints, would engage in a cover-up and that her only viable option was resignation."
The suit alleged Farmer was hired in about January 2007 "due to cronyism and not her ability to do the job."
The lawsuit said Taylor and Farmer had disagreements about the Clients' Security Fund, which reimburses clients for losses caused by the dishonest conduct of lawyers.
The suit says the American Bar Association had recommended, based on a 2005 site visit, that the fund be directly supervised by the Nevada Supreme Court and be removed from the Bar's supervision.
While Taylor advocated for implementation of the ABA recommendations to better serve the purpose of the fund, Farmer opposed this as did the previous executive director as it would "reduce her control over the Bar and its finances and bring scrutiny on her past management of the Clients' Security Fund," the lawsuit says.
The suit alleges Farmer screamed at Taylor when Taylor questioned Farmer's decisions about staffing needs in Taylor's departments and "Taylor often observed Ms. Farmer berate, insult, belittle, undermine, humiliate and scream at other employees."
As for Eichman, the suit says Farmer "launched screaming attacks on Mrs. Eichman and other employees in the admissions department, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation."
The suit alleges at times Farmer undermined Eichman by "making comments to people under Ms. Eichman's direct supervision that insulted and criticized Ms. Eichman on a personal and unprofessional level."
The lawsuit goes on to charge that at the time Farmer forced Eichman to resign, the admissions department was grading the February 2010 bar exams and because of Eichman's departure, "errors were made during the grading which caused persons who had not actually passed the exam to be admitted to the Bar."
Eichman also complained that in one incident, Farmer "hurled a document at Ms. Eichman" and "followed this assault by screaming and yelling at Ms. Eichman, slamming her hand on Ms. Eichman's desk and approaching Ms. Eichman in a physically threatening manner."
The suit alleged Breinig was forced to seek medical treatment as a result of Farmer's behavior including verbal and emotional attacks and "trapping" her in an office during a meeting in which Breinig attempted to exit an office but "Farmer jumped between Breinig and the door and blocked the exit."
"Plaintiffs are not the only casualties of Ms. Farmer's reign of terror. During her two-plus years of depravities, she has terminated or forced the resignations of at least 15 employees, the majority of whom were high-level employees with many years of service to the bar," the lawsuit alleges.
The suit alleged Farmer was hired to replace Allen Kimbrough after Kimbrough was forced to resign amid allegations of intimidating and harassing his subordinates, misappropriation of Bar resources "and other unprofessional activities."
The suit said Kimbrough's activities had been brought to the attention of the Bar's Board of Governors but the Board "pursued a policy of conscious inaction and secrecy until threatened with litigation."
A 2006 story by the Las Vegas Review-Journal said a bar official reported Kimbrough resigned "to pursue a different direction in his personal career" and that the resignation came after allegations were made about him.
The R-J reported Vincent Consul, bar president at the time, said an independent investigation of allegations by a disgruntled ex-employee did not substantiate "the substantial portion" of the allegations.
Last week's lawsuit said the Board of Governors engaged a San Francisco attorney to investigate the allegations of Eichman, Taylor and Breinig -- "the same individual it had hired to conduct the sham investigation after accusations were made against Mr. Kimbrough."
"Predictably, the San Francisco attorney once again found no information to substantiate the allegations against Ms. Farmer. Plaintiffs have been advised by persons interviewed by the San Francisco attorney during the course of his `investigation' that he did not seem interested in ascertaining the truth, but instead sought to justify a pre-ordained conclusion," the lawsuit charges.
The lawsuit asserts counts including breach of employment contracts, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligent hiring and supervision of Farmer, tortious discharge, tortious discharge in violation of public policy, assault, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified general and punitive damages.
Full text of the State Bar's response to the lawsuit:
The Board of Governors believes that the allegations in the complaint essentially amount to griping by former employees who could not, or would not, adapt to changing work requirements.
The board is confident of a positive outcome for the lawsuit and is fully supportive of Ms. Farmer's continuing efforts to provide a high level of service to the public and the bar.
Here is some background on this situation:
Almost a year ago, the State Bar of Nevada hired an experienced labor and employment attorney to investigate vague allegations by these former employees against Ms. Farmer. Plaintiffs' attorney and his clients were invited to provide information to the investigator, but they declined to do so. The investigator reported that he was able to gain an accurate understanding of the facts relevant to the allegations, despite the lack of cooperation by the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs had discussed their grievances against Ms. Farmer with a number of persons who were among the approximately 30 employees interviewed.
Based on the facts reported, the Board of Governors concluded:
1. The investigator had conducted a thorough and independent investigation;
2. Despite his best efforts, he could not find sufficient information to credibly sustain the former employees’ allegations;
3. Much of the criticism of Ms. Farmer was based on inaccurate rumors; and
4. Much of the balance of the criticism of Ms. Farmer resulted from her implementation of fiscal and other policy changes mandated by the Board of Governors to improve the operations of the state bar.
On June 8, 2010, the Board of Governors sent a letter to all state bar employees reporting their conclusions based on the investigation and communicating their support for Ms. Farmer's implementation of the Board's new policies.