State Bar Admits “Errors” in Handling Years of Complaints Against “Real Housewives” Tom Girardi | Nation / World
LOS ANGELES – The California State Bar admitted this week that its investigators had mismanaged years of complaints against disgraced legal titan and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” actor Tom Girardi.
The astonishing public admission by the agency that regulates the state’s legal profession comes after a Times investigation published in March described how Girardi had kept his lawyer’s license intact despite numerous complaints against him at the bar in the state as well as more than 100 lawsuits against him and his company, many of which alleged embezzlement.
The article explained how Girardi maintained a close relationship with the bar workers, offering them wine-soaked lunches at Morton’s, casino nights in Las Vegas, and private plane rides.
The board of directors of the regulatory agency said in a press release Thursday that an audit of the LA electricity broker’s disciplinary record “revealed errors made in some investigations over the many decades of Mr. Girardi going back about 40 years and covering the tenure of many Chief Trial Lawyers.
The audit conducted by an external consultant “identified significant problems” in “the investigation and evaluation of high volume and high volume trust accounts,” the state bar said.
The announcement was highly unusual for the state bar, which rarely comments on its investigations and is a testament to how the downfall of the wealthy and politically connected Girardi has rocked the legal community and the organization tasked with protecting the public from unscrupulous lawyers. .
But some in Sacramento have said the state bar needs to go even further to tackle the Girardi scandal. Two politicians overseen by an agency have demanded that the audit be made public while calling for new accounting for how Girardi escaped discipline.
Brian Levin, Director, Food, Beverage & Agriculture Practice at Intrepid Investment Bankers, a subsidiary of MUFG Union Bank
“We’re going to have to dig deeper,” said Sen. Tom Umberg, the Orange County Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, in an interview.
For decades, Girardi, 82, has seemed a steadfast force in the plaintiff bar in California and beyond, winning huge settlements and judgments against drug companies and toxic polluters, including in the case immortalized in the movie “Erin Brockovich”. In recent years, he’s also enjoyed pop culture notoriety on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” alongside his now estranged wife, pop singer Erika Jayne.
Friends and peers were shocked when his well-respected business, Girardi Keese, collapsed last year. Then, evidence began to mount that he had embezzled millions of settlement money from vulnerable clients – including widows, orphans, a burn victim and her family – in what a colleague called to a longtime federal Ponzi scheme judge.
Girardi and his law firm have since been forced into bankruptcy, and a court-appointed bankruptcy trustee said in court documents that he owed more than $ 56 million to creditors, former clients and clients. lenders.
The state bar did not say whether the specific errors uncovered during the audit were related to Girardi’s favor with staff or its directors, or whether its findings resulted in discipline or dismissal of employees.
The audit was carried out by Alyse Lazar, a Thousand Oaks lawyer who was the supervising state bar prosecutor in the 1990s and who already conducts random reviews of closed disciplinary cases, according to Teresa Ruano, spokesperson for the State Bar. state bar. Lazar, who declined to comment, was ultimately paid over $ 25,000 for reviewing the Girardi complaints, which began on March 15.
Ruano said she could not disclose specific information about the number or nature of complaints that were part of the audit and argued that the final report was protected by solicitor-client privilege.
“The details of the audit are confidential,” Ruano said.
The two state lawmakers who chair a pair of legislative committees that oversee the state bar told The Times it was imperative that the audit be made public.
“It’s not like a national security issue,” Umberg said. “Revealing this… will help us protect consumers. Unless the nuclear codes are in there somewhere, I think they could free most of it. “
Umberg, who is also a practicing lawyer, said transparency was key to restoring the credibility and trust of the state bar. He noted that fellow lawyers and members of the community have repeatedly asked how lawmakers will respond to apparent breaches of discipline in the Girardi case.
“The Girardi debacle – it’s an embarrassment for the entire profession,” Umberg said. “The question is: have there been other failures of a similar nature?
Assembly Member Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, said the audit findings revealed “pervasive and institutional deficiencies” in the way lawyers are regulated.
Stone, who chairs the Assembly Judiciary Committee, also demanded disclosure of the audit report and demanded “a full audit of the Girardi case by an outside entity.” Such a review would be used by the legislature, the Supreme Court and the public to shed light on what went wrong, he said.
“I am very concerned that the bar has made many mistakes and oversights in the Girardi case over a period of four decades,” Stone said. “These mistakes put the public at risk, allowed Girardi to prey on vulnerable clients, and seriously undermined confidence in the jurisdiction of the state bar.”
Many state bar administrators declined to comment for the Times. According to the press release, the trustees called on bar workers to “explore new and innovative ways to regulate and monitor attorney-client trust accounts in order to prevent embezzlement from occurring in the first place.”
The agency said it also plans to hire accountants to review “high value” clients ‘trust accounts – the bank accounts lawyers use to hold clients’ money – as well as set up automated tools to help identify “patterns of behavior that might signal possible misconduct.”
“We must use the lessons learned to strengthen the rules, policies and procedures of the state bar to avoid duplicating the problems of the past,” said board chairman, San Francisco attorney Sean. SeLegue.
The state bar is trying to strike Girardi off, formally accusing him of embezzling millions of client funds, dishonesty and other unprofessional behavior. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease this year and his brother, who is his legal guardian, told the bar through a lawyer that Girardi will no longer practice law and have no plans to challenge the proceedings. .
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