A Corridor of Fame Lawyer, a ‘Actual Housewife’ and a Gorgeous Fall

Twenty years in the past, the film “Erin Brockovich” helped make Thomas Girardi one thing of a folks hero.

Already an completed trial lawyer who pursued private harm instances in opposition to massive companies, he was a part of the authorized crew when Ms. Brockovich went after Pacific Fuel & Electrical in 1993. Finally, the California utility was pressured to pay tons of of tens of millions of {dollars} to individuals who stated they acquired most cancers and different illnesses from ingesting contaminated groundwater.

The film helped introduce the world to “poisonous tort” litigation — instances arising from publicity to chemical compounds and pollution. And Mr. Girardi, who was thanked within the film’s credit and served as an adviser on the movie, reaped the rewards for shoppers and himself: He went on to win billions of {dollars} for purchasers of the pharmaceutical firm Merck, and married a singer who has a spot on the “Actual Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

However now Mr. Girardi is starring in his personal authorized drama — one which William F. Savino, a lawyer for one of many companies that’s now suing him, known as an “virtually Shakespearean tragedy.”

Lawsuits enjoying out concurrently in state and federal courts in Los Angeles and Chicago have left Mr. Girardi’s private {and professional} life in tatters as he faces accusations of misconduct, together with that he misappropriated cash that was imagined to go to households of victims of the Lion Air crash in 2018 that led to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max.

Attorneys for Mr. Girardi, 81, have recommended in courtroom that he’s now not mentally competent — an concept that one other lawyer for Lion Air households stated was merely an try to keep away from accountability for a Ponzi scheme that lastly fell aside.

Mr. Girardi owes tens of tens of millions of {dollars} to finance companies and hedge funds that lent cash to his small Los Angeles legislation agency, Girardi Keese, in response to courtroom filings. He and the agency have been pushed into chapter 11 in December, and most of his belongings have been frozen. Final week, a federal choose ordered the appointment of an interim trustee “to instantly take possession of the books and data” to find out how a lot cash he has and owes to others.

On the similar time, a federal choose in Chicago is holding hearings into fraud accusations in opposition to Mr. Girardi over a settlement with Boeing over the Lion Air crash. Attorneys with one other agency that symbolize victims’ households say Mr. Girardi might have misappropriated at the least $2 million in settlement cash paid out by Boeing, which had acknowledged {that a} software program situation had contributed to the crash that killed 189 individuals.

After which there may be the private strife. Mr. Girardi’s spouse of 21 years — Erika Jayne, a singer and star of the fact TV present “Actual Housewives of Beverly Hills,” filed for divorce in November simply because the mounting money owed and allegations of economic misdeeds started to mount.

It’s a beautiful fall for Mr. Girardi, who in 2014 was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Corridor of Fame. The group famous that he had secured greater than 30 favorable jury verdicts for shoppers and praised him for his position in additional than 100 settlements, together with the PG&E case and the $4.85 billion settlement arising from problems related to Merck’s ache treatment Vioxx.

Now Mr. Girardi’s authorized follow is successfully shuttered, throwing different lawsuits into upheaval. His agency had been representing about 8,000 shoppers within the so-called Porter Ranch environmental litigation — a far-reaching lawsuit involving 36,000 individuals who lived close to a serious fuel leak in 2015. Court docket filings estimate the litigation may result in settlements value $1 billion only for Mr. Girardi’s shoppers, who now want new illustration.

Mr. Girardi’s agency was the lead counsel within the Lion Air litigation, and Boeing paid it an undisclosed sum that was imagined to be allotted to the households of victims. However at the least $2 million of that cash wasn’t distributed, stated Jay Edelson, an lawyer who had represented different shoppers within the litigation. Attorneys for Mr. Girardi have recommended to the Chicago courtroom that neither he nor his legislation agency have been ready to pay the disputed cash.

And at a listening to final month, Evan Jenness, a prison protection lawyer employed by Mr. Girardi, instructed Choose Thomas M. Durkin that she needed to get a “psychological analysis” of Mr. Girardi as a result of “he’s unable to successfully advise me on methods to defend him.”

Ms. Jenness didn’t reply to a request for remark. The lawyer representing Mr. Girardi’s agency, Michael Monico, stated in an e-mail that he had no new info to offer.

Mr. Edelson stated the suggestion that Mr. Girardi’s competency may be at situation was a ruse to evade legal responsibility and accused Mr. Girardi and his agency of “working a Ponzi scheme” for a few years. In a current courtroom submitting, Mr. Edelson’s agency stated Mr. Girardi has a historical past of suspending funds till cash is available in from different settlements and jury verdicts.

Mr. Edelson stated his agency turned suspicious that one thing was amiss over the summer season as a result of a few of the victims’ households had not been paid by Mr. Girardi’s agency though Boeing had largely settled with the households in early 2020.

“We saved getting plenty of excuses however didn’t have any agency data the cash was taken,” Mr. Edelson stated. “We knew the cash didn’t go to the shoppers within the fall.”

In early December, Mr. Edelson filed courtroom papers alerting Choose Durkin to the issues with the funds. In a Jan. 5 courtroom submitting by Mr. Edelson’s agency, he included a transcript of a voice message left by Mr. Girardi round Thanksgiving.

“Don’t be imply to me, be good to me,” Mr. Girardi stated within the message, in response to the submitting. “I’m doing good. It was due to me that we acquired this by the best way. I’ll be in contact, don’t fear about every thing. We’re pals. Issues are going to work out good.”

Because the chapter case proceeds, it’s not clear whether or not the households of the victims of the Lion Air crash or Mr. Girardi’s collectors might be paid first. However that could be the least of Mr. Girardi’s issues.

In lots of states, misappropriation of shopper cash will be grounds for disbarment and even prison prosecution. At a listening to final month, Choose Durkin known as Mr. Girardi’s conduct “unconscionable” stated he would refer the matter to federal prosecutors. Later that day, the U.S. lawyer’s workplace in Chicago filed a movement with the choose to unseal confidential settlement paperwork for legislation enforcement to overview.

Shanin Specter, a trial lawyer in Philadelphia who has served as a co-counsel with Mr. Girardi on the Vioxx litigation, stated Mr. Girardi had a well-earned popularity as one of many nation’s prime trial legal professionals. However the allegations that he misappropriated shopper cash, if true, have been inexcusable.

“Taking your shopper’s funds is the skilled equal of touching an electrified rail,” Mr. Specter stated. “It’s skilled suicide.”

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