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State Bar fight

County labor leader Kimm Daniels faces charges related to practicing law without a license

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When practicing attorney Kimm Daniels became the general manager of the San Luis Obispo County Employees Association in 2007, she let her law license lapse—she stopped paying California State Bar membership fees or attending continuing education courses that keep lawyers abreast of changes in the law. Normally, such a life change wouldn’t be a problem, but charges filed by the State Bar of California allege that she continued to represent herself as a lawyer.

Daniels was scheduled to appear at a preliminary conference to address the allegations on Sept. 13, but she failed to appear or provide a written response, according to a State Bar court clerk. That clerk told New Times a trial date was set for Jan. 6 and that the opposing attorney has until Oct. 4 to file a motion of default. If accepted, the motion would prevent Daniels from defending herself in court.

The case centers on James White, who, in 2005, paid Daniels $3,500 to bring employment discrimination charges against Atascadero State Hospital. New Times was unable to locate White for comment, but he alleges that Daniels lied to him, saying she’d filed a claim with the State Personnel Board on his behalf in May 2006; but by the time her license expired in 2007, no claim had been filed and White hadn’t been informed that Daniels would no longer be able to represent him.

White claims to have e-mailed Daniels on several occasions throughout 2008 requesting status updates on his case. Allegations include a July 29, 2008, incident when Daniels sent White an e-mail explaining that his case would fall under the jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations Board and that he should contact her if he had other questions, according to court documents. White and the State Bar allege that almost a year after Daniels’ license expired, she neglected to mention she was no longer permitted to practice law or give legal counsel.

White eventually requested that Daniels refund the $3,500 and return to him any documents pertinent to his case. He alleges that the money and files were never returned.

In all, Daniels faces six charges of professional misconduct: failure to perform competently, misrepresentation to a client, improper withdrawal from employment, unauthorized practice of law, dishonesty, and failure to cooperate with a State Bar investigation.

New Times contacted Daniels, but she declined to comment on the details of the case, saying only that she has filed to appear in court “telephonically” and that she has a valid defense.

The case with White isn’t the only issue plaguing Daniels. Turmoil within SLOCEA, which handles contract negotiations and grievances for 1,625 county workers, has led to a potential split. Members of the Trades, Crafts, and Services bargaining unit are scheduled to cast absentee ballots in the coming weeks for a new union, the San Luis Obispo General Employment Association (SLOGEA).

Daniels told New Times that if the trades and crafts employees choose to leave SLOCEA, they’ll have much less bargaining power.

“There’s safety in numbers,” she said. “It’s unlikely that the county will take any action with one group and not the other.”

Dissatisfaction with Daniels is said to be a major factor in the desire for new representation, according to a SLOGEA flyer urging members to vote for the new union.

Christine Brown, a labor representative who once worked for SLOCEA, told New Times Daniels portrayed herself as an attorney long after her license expired. Full disclosure: Brown said she was fired by Daniels and plans to work for the new union, SLOGEA, if the split occurs.

“We worked side by side from 2006 to 2009. During that time, she absolutely made me believe she was a licensed attorney,” Brown said. “I went to her for legal advice on a regular basis.”

Daniels denies the claim: “I was never SLOCEA’s attorney. If we need legal services, we retain outside counsel.”

She told New Times it’s not necessary to have a law license as the general manager and that none of her predecessors were attorneys.

“Both the office manager and [then] board president [Vern Halterman] told me that [Daniels] was an attorney,” said Donna Crocker, a sheriff’s services employee. “But when I asked her point blank if she could represent me, she said, ‘No.’”

Crocker said Daniels then put her in contact with an actual lawyer.

The office declined to comment, but Halterman, who has since retired from county employment, told New Times, “I don’t remember saying that, but I can see how Donna might have gotten that impression.

“Her attorney status had nothing to do with her being hired,” Halterman said of Daniels, though he wasn’t board president when she got the job. “She’s very intelligent and did great work for SLOCEA.”

 Daniels maintains that she had done no wrong and that she informed the personnel board as soon as her license lapsed. ∆

Intern Nick Powell can be reached through Executive Editor Ryan Miller. Send comments to rmiller@newtimesslo.com.

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