The California State Bar announced Thursday that it has received 205 complaints about prominent lawyer Tom Girardi in the last 40 years, acknowledging in a letter to the public that the agency’s handling of them “brought to light serious failures in the State Bar’s attorney discipline system.”
“There is no excuse being offered here; Girardi caused irreparable harm to hundreds of his clients, and the State Bar could have done more to protect the public. We can never allow something like this to happen again,” wrote Ruben Duran, chair of the bar’s Board of Trustees.
The letter includes a summary of each complaint and its disposition, with 136 complaints received between Aug. 10, 1982, and Dec. 17, 2020. Another 69 were received after a petition was filed on Dec. 18, 2020, to force Girardi’s law firm Girardi Keese into bankruptcy.
Of the 205 complaints, 120 alleged violations involving client trust accounts. Those accounts are where lawyers keep client money, and they’re subject to strict regulations that the court-appointed trustee for bankrupt Girardi Keese, Elissa Miller, says in court filings were violated many times.
Miller is truing to recoup some of the money through U.S. Bankruptcy Court adversary actions, including one targeting a pair of diamond earrings Girardi bought for his now-estranged wife, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne, with money from a client trust account related to lawsuits over the drug Rezulin. It was one of many huge class actions Girardi regularly commanded as the unofficial king of the California’s plaintiff’s bar, jumpstarted by his work on the environmental lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on behalf of the city of Hinkley that inspired the movie Erin Brockovich.
The case that led to his downfall was of equally epic size and magnitude: Lawsuits against Boeing Co. over the fatal 2018 plane crash of Lion Air flight 610 into the Java Sea.
The Chicago-based firm that Girardi enlisted as co-counsel eventually told the judge assigned to the case, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin, that their clients weren’t getting paid. Durkin sanctioned Girardi and his firm $2 million. He held hearings about possible contempt charges against Girardi’s law partners but concluded on Wednesday that none are warranted.
Still, the judge said Girardi’s actions are “a stain on the legal profession and, due to the international nature of this case, have damaged the reputation of the American legal system.”
“It is nearly impossible to mend such a breach of trust. The best we can do is demonstrate that the legal system Girardi besmirched has the ability to rectify its errors and bring bad actors to account,” Durkin wrote.
Thursday’s records release by the state bar follows the Los Angeles Times petitions the California Supreme Court for access. The State Bar had been fighting he effort, but it reversed course in October and announced it was ready to publicize information about the decades of complaints received about Girardi, who was licensed to practice in California in 1965.
Girardi was disbarred on July 1, the State Bar’s website says.
Read the full letter and summary of the complaints here.
[Image via BECK/AFP via Getty Images]
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