LOS ANGELES (CN) — Throughout the first 2 1/2 days of a mental competency hearing, disgraced attorney Tom Girardi has sat stoically in his chair, with barely so much as a fidget or quiet muttering as witness after witness detailed his declining mental capacity and atrophying brain. That changed Wednesday morning when, to the surprise of all in the courtroom, Girardi apparently said or mouthed to one of the federal prosecutors: "Fuck you."
Though the comment could not be heard from the wooden pews where the public sits, the prosecutor brought it to the judge's attention, and neither Girardi nor his defense attorneys disputed it.
The outburst came as Assistant U.S. Attorney Ali Moghaddas cross-examined Dr. Stacey Wood, a neuropsychologist who testified Tuesday as an expert witness for the defense. Moghaddas suggested the outburst was evidence that Girardi was able to understand what was happening in the proceeding, and that he knew he had "nothing to lose."
"It's certainly rude and inappropriate," Wood said. "You deserve our respect."
Girardi stared coldly at Moghaddas. He did not elaborate.
Prosecutors have argued that Girardi is malingering, that he is either making up or exaggerating his symptoms of memory loss and cognitive decline in order to avoid going to trial on charges that he stole millions of dollars from his former clients. Much of their argument rests on the timing of Girardi's claims — his former attorney, Evan Jenness, first told a different federal judge in Chicago that she had concerns about her client's mental state. That revelation came just as it was becoming clear that Girardi had misappropriated money owed to his former clients and co-counsel in a lawsuit over the Lion Air Flight 610 crash.
While cross-examining Wood, Moghaddas brought up memos written by Girardi in 2020, as well as voicemails he left, which Moghaddas said showed that Girardi was functioning at a normal level. One memo, dictated by Girardi to his assistant, told the staff they could no longer work from home. Moghaddas said that indicated a level of awareness that contradicted the claim that Girardi was unaware of what was happening to him. But Wood disagreed, saying that someone with a mild cognitive impairment, an early stage of dementia, could have dictated a memo like that.
But after Moghaddas showed Wood another memo to his staff, this one detailing his law firm's perilous financial state during the first year of the Covid pandemic, the neuropsychologist acknowledged "it suggests a situational awareness," but added that her focus was "more contemporaneous." That is, her focus was on Girardi's mental state now, not in 2020. Moghaddas suggested that if he was malingering in 2020, that could well mean that he is malingering now.
The prosecutor also brought up an incident when Girardi met with a different neuropsychologist and claimed not to remember who his estranged wife Erika Jayne was. The lapse was perhaps a strange one; Girardi's condition is marked by short-term memory loss and an ability to form new memories. Long-term memories should remain more or less intact.
"I did find that unusual," Wood said.
If found mentally competent to stand trial, Girardi will face five counts of wire fraud on charges that he embezzled more than $15 million of his clients' money. He faces separate federal charges in Chicago. He currently resides in a locked memory ward in an Orange County nursing home.
in the afternoon, the defense called a number of lay witnesses, including a longtime friend of Girardi's, Amber Ringler, who told the court that Girardi was having trouble recognizing people as early as 2015. By 2020, she said, "he had gone way down hill." She said he would sometimes have whole conversations with people then ask her, "Who was that?"
Margarita Munoz, the director of the memory care unit in which Girardi resides, said she believes Girardi is not faking his condition.
"He just sits at the table and... writes on a piece of paper," she said. "He thinks he's working on a case."
She added that she thinks Girardi doesn't recognize his own lawyers, but simply looks at them with "a blank stare, like there's nothing there."
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton will decide whether or not Girardi is competent to stand trial, but not for at least a few months, and not before both sets of lawyers have submitted post-hearing briefs.
Upon exiting the courthouse, Girardi declined to comment.Follow @hillelaron
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