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The millions Girardi poured into Democratic political campaigns made him a confidant of generations of power brokers, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, who last year gave the attorney an official role in filling coveted state judgeships. But now, in the twilight of his career, the year-old is facing the collapse of everything he holds dear — his venerable law firm, marriage and reputation as a champion for the downtrodden.
His creditors have demanded payment in court, among them high-interest lenders, fellow lawyers, a security company that once guarded his Pasadena mansion, and his first wife. Nearly all the attorneys who worked at his firm, Girardi Keese, have left, including his own son-in-law, and last month Jayne petitioned for divorce. Tom Girardi and his firm were sued more than a hundred times between the s and last year, with at least half of those cases asserting misconduct in his law practice. It was an extraordinary admission from a titan of American law who strode the courthouse halls with an aura of invincibility and whose name had become synonymous with massive windfalls.
Some creditors have pointed to his much younger wife. He has bristled at allegations that he diverted firm assets for lavish living, but his lawyers admitted in court this week that he has been unable to tell them what happened to the money. Girardi was then in his mids but expressed no interest in retirement. His high energy and obsession with the law were part of his persona on the show, and he publicly admitted having few hobbies and no succession plan at the firm he co-founded five decades ly.
It was due less to the allegations — that tainted drinking water had caused cancer and other ailments — than to the movie it begat. Julia Roberts portrayed the titular paralegal Brockovich as a scrappy heroine whose short skirts and persistence made environmental litigation easy to absorb and improbably sexy. The film reduced Girardi to a composite figure, but he, and later his wife, used it as a calling card announcing his importance.
Victims sought out Girardi Keese. Other lawyers referred cases to him, believing in his ability to take on deep-pocketed corporations. They requested an ing. The firm refused, and inabout two dozen women filed suit against Girardi and the firm. The women became increasingly frustrated. Within months, he reached a settlement with the cancer survivors. Those watching on Bravo were none the wiser. In their first episode, Girardi and Jayne gave viewers a tour of their gardens, deed by the Olmsted brothers, who planned Central Park.
Jayne, then known as Erika Chahoy, was a striking, blond year-old with a young son and dreams of stardom. Girardi was On her last day, she tossed her work uniform — a clingy, velvet emerald green dress and black heels — in the bar trash can.
The couple married in the clubhouse of the Los Angeles Country Club in Girardi asked a judge he knew to officiate at the end of a round of golf. The wedding was so spontaneous that the groom enlisted an attorney in the bar as a witness. Although Girardi was in the midst of an acrimonious dispute over dividing assets with his second wife, he opted not to a prenuptial agreement.
In those, clients do not put up a cent. Their lawyers front the costs of investigating the claim and putting on a trial. If they lose, they get nothing. The cases brought so much business that Girardi expanded the firm into an adjacent building on Wilshire Boulevard. Still, jobs there were much sought after by law school graduates. There were material perks for his lawyers — Girardi paid for luxury cars and brought in a tailor to make them custom suits and shirts, according to people familiar with the firm. Girardi Keese had a box at Staples Center, and attorneys had an ample budget for wining and dining potential clients and co-counsel.
Working for Girardi meant being in the orbit of the powerful and well connected. He counted among his friends the late Johnnie Cochran, at one point floating the L. He belonged to country clubs across L. He could get former Gov. Jerry Brown on the phone with ease, associates said. The pair hosted the president-elect for an event last year at the Jonathan Club, a private downtown social club.
Newsom named Girardi last year to a panel that evaluates potential judges in L. The Italian American Lawyers Assn. Then there was For the next four and a half minutes, the justices watched with the rest of the crowd as a scantily clad Jayne gyrated on screen. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise, L. A decade into her marriage, she had grown bored with being the wife of an extremely wealthy lawyer. She decided to launch herself into the music industry as a bawdy dance diva and presented Girardi with a spreheet of her desired production budget.
In the years that followed, she found some success. Girardi was often on hand for shows, she wrote, sometimes even picking up checks from club managers. If it bothered Girardi, he did not let it show. Byshe was preparing to close down her costly music ventures.
While Jayne and her castmates frolicked in Italy and the Bahamas, Girardi was working quietly to keep his law firm afloat. Although few at Girardi Keese or the larger legal community knew it, he went back to high-interest lenders again and again for help. He was so secretive that the companies giving money did not know there were other lenders holding the same collateral, according to a lawsuit filed by one lender and a sworn declaration by another company.
The collateral Girardi put up for the loans was the anticipated fees of a of large contingency lawsuits, court records show. He presented himself to them as a safe bet. Her star did seem to be on the rise. The lenders expected that once Girardi settled major cases for millions, they would get their money. Every one of them stated [the opposing lawyers] better not come in his courtroom.
Girardi managed to settle with the lender, but other creditors were already lining up at L. County Superior Court. In the swirl of creditors, one young man stood out. But in the years that followed, his family concluded that the lawyer had misappropriated millions of dollars of their money.
Stealing client money is a very serious allegation for attorneys. Lawyers can be disbarred and even charged criminally for such conduct. The family had had enough. Their lawyers hauled Girardi into court and made it clear they would go to great lengths to get the money. In the Wilshire Boulevard offices, people who had worked with Girardi for decades were becoming nervous, according to individuals familiar with the situation. He had complete control over the finances and was secretive about them. Where had all the money gone, they asked each other. Lawyers started leaving. The firm that once had 30 lawyers was soon down to single digits.
Judge freezes assets of famed L. The situation only worsened for those who remained. A Chicago firm that had helped represent four Indonesian families with loved ones killed in a plane crash kept calling about missing settlement money. Another firm lawyer, Keith Griffin, later told them half of the money had been paid and more was on its way, even claiming to have seen the wire transfer confirmation, according to court filings. Griffin did not return messages seeking comment. Testifying on a videoconference call because of the pandemic, the attorney seemed for the first time reed about his financial situation.
She filed for divorce on election day, citing irreconcilable differences and indicating she planned to seek spousal support from Girardi. He continued putting on a confident face to people demanding money. Anyway, everything will be smoothed over on Thursday.
It was not. District Judge Thomas M. The judge referred Girardi to the U. Hours later, Jayne posted a picture in silver stilettos, elbow-length mesh gloves and lilac lingerie. Times staff writer Melanie Mason and staff librarian Scott Wilson contributed to this report. Matt Hamilton is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting with colleagues Harriet Ryan and Paul Pringle and was part of the team of reporters that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Harriet Ryan is an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
She is a graduate of Columbia University. With coronavirus surge worsening, California urges wearing masks indoors.
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The legal titan and the ‘Real Housewife’: The rise and fall of Tom Girardi and Erika Jayne