A federal judge in Chicago froze the assets of a famed Los Angeles attorney on Monday morning. That attorney also happens to be the co-founder of one of the City of Angels’ leading law firms.
U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois Thomas M. Durkin, currently presiding over a series of lawsuits concerning Boeing’s 2018 Max 8 crash in Indonesia, found that lawyer Thomas Girardi stole at least $2 million worth of client funds that are owed to the families of the people killed during that tragic incident.
During a Monday morning contempt hearing, Durkin said Girardi’s misappropriation of client funds was unconscionable and indicated that he would refer the attorney’s conduct to the local U.S. Attorney’s office for criminal investigation.
While excoriating the lawyer’s alleged theft, the judge noted that the intended beneficiaries of those funds are “widows” and “orphans.”
“No matter what your personal financial situation is, no matter what kind of pressures you are under, if you touch client money, you are going to be disbarred and quite possibly charged criminally,” Durkin said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“You learn that in law school,” the judge continued–citing an attorney’s elementary ethical obligations and a class which every attorney in America must take and pass, “and someone as experienced as Mr. Girardi knows that as well as anyone.”
The 81-year-old lawyer is a fixture in the Los Angeles legal community–his namesake law firm of Girardi & Keese is well-known as a plaintiff-friendly operation that deftly directs its legal know-how at big-name and deep-pocketed corporate clients.
The firm’s splash page notes:
California’s Top Trial Attorneys
We Treat Our Clients Like Family
Our firm has achieved the most success in all of California for the plaintiff’s verdicts for more than 20 years. Our award-winning team of attorneys has won more than 10 billion dollars.
While amassing such a reputation and record of verdicts since being founded in 1965, it appears that Girardi’s alleged misappropriation of client funds is indicative of long-smoldering financial troubles at the firm.
“They were unable to make payroll recently,” said defense attorney Evan Jenness during Monday’s procedeedings–noting that the firm has roughly $15,000 in its operating accounts. Jenness also said that Girardi was not currently in possession of the $2 million that he currently owes his clients in the Boeing crash case.
As for the state and location of those misplaced funds, the octogenarian attorney blamed it on divorce court as well as other “obligations and debts.”
Girardi, a bit of a star beyond the legal community, is currently married to Erika Jayne, a singer who appears on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The two are, however, currently estranged and the funds in question may be tied up in anticipation of an imminent split.
Girardi himself recently showed up on the reality T.V. show–but that’s not his first time in the limelight. Perhaps befitting a trial attorney focused on corporate wrongdoing, Girardi’s previous legal efforts were part of the inspiration behind the hit 2000 Julia Roberts film “Erin Brockovich.”
But sometimes stars fade–and how–and in more ways than one.
According to Jenness and other defense counsel, Girardi was unable to play any role in constructing his defense and his attorneys were only obtained in the last few days. For his part, Girardi simply attended the hearing by phone due to coronavirus (COVID-19) rules and said nothing during the hearing, according to the LA Times. And the implication raised by all that was also made explicit.
“I’m unsure that he understands either the nature or the gravity of the current situation,” Jenness told the court–saying that his defense team wanted him to undergo an exam to determine his mental competency.
Attorney Jay Edelson, however, said Jenness was peddling “a sham.”
Edelson also represents Boeing crash families and his firm alerted the court to the $2 million misappropriation. He went on to say that Girardi offered money just last week in hopes of shelving Monday’s contempt hearing.
“Half a million dollars for any one of these families is significant money, life-changing given the tragedy they have been through and trying to carry on in the aftermath,” Judge Durkin intoned–apparently finding little-to-no sympathy for Girardi’s hinted-at mental deterioration.
Law&Crime repeatedly reached out to Girardi & Keese for comment on this story but no response was forthcoming at the time of publication.
[image via ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]