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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Probe reveals deep ties between Tom Girardi, state bar

Among other things, Girardi gave more than $1 million in gifts and payments to a state bar investigator and his wife.

(CN) — Disgraced lawyer Tom Girardi, once among the most successful and powerful plaintiff's attorneys in the country, gave more than $1 million in gifts and payments to a state bar investigator and his wife, according to a corruption probe by the State Bar of California released Friday.

Girardi's close ties to the investigator, Tom Layton, were first laid bare by the Los Angeles Times in 2021, but two reports — a 48-page audit of past complaints made against Girardi, and far more explosive 100-page report by the firm Halpern May Ybarra Gelberg (the "May report") — both released Friday, provide far more detail into their financial dealings, and the corrupt relationship Girardi had with the state bar.

"While none of the individuals named in the May report are still at the state bar, the magnitude and duration of the transgressions reveal persistent institutional failure and a shocking past culture of unethical and unacceptable behavior," said Ruben Duran, chair of the state bar board of trustees, in a press release. "To ensure that what happened in the Girardi matter never happens again, we commissioned unflinching investigations by outside experts, are making the results public to the extent we can legally do so, and are addressing the findings comprehensively."

The reports detail how state bar officials closed complaints made against Girardi without fully investigating them.

Throughout his more than 50-year career, Girardi had two claims to fame: he played a key role in winning a $333 million settlement for residents of Hinkley, California, in their lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric, a case that later became the basis for the film "Erin Brockovich." Decades later, he and his wife Erika Jayne were cast on the reality show "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

For years, Girardi faced accusations that he'd stolen money from clients and other lawyers. He was forced into bankruptcy in 2021, disbarred in 2022, and last month was finally indicted by two different federal grand juries, one in California and one in Illinois, on charges of embezzling more than $18 million of his clients' money.

The May report is the result of a 16-month investigation, during which May and his team "reviewed over 950,000 documents, issued 23 subpoenas, and interviewed, either voluntarily or under compulsion, 74 witnesses," according to the bar's press release.

"We found that Girardi maintained an extensive network of connections at all levels of the state bar," the report reads. "As one witness told us, '[i]t’s almost like Girardi became part of the fabric at the State Bar.'" The report documents evidence that "at least nine former State Bar employees or Board members had connections to or accepted items of value, travel, or meals from Girardi while they were working at the State Bar or State Bar Court or were on the Board."

Though Girardi's relationship with Layton was "particularly remarkable," Girardi formed close ties with other high-ranking state bar officials, including many of its executive directors. He was close with other investigators too, like Murray Greenberg, who worked at the bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel for three decades and "was personally involved in the state bar’s handling of multiple Girardi cases that were closed without any public discipline to Girardi." Among other things, Greenberg attended parties thrown by Girardi, and received concert tickets from him without disclosing them.

"When we deposed Greenberg," the May report reads, "he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer any questions about his relationship with Girardi or work at the state bar."

The 83-year-old Girardi has been diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer's disease, has been under his brother's conservatorship for two years, and is now living in an assisted living facility in Orange County. Last month, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered a mental competency hearing to determine whether Girardi is fit to stand trial.

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