'Real Housewives' lawyer had close ties to some state bar officials, never faced ethics charges despite accusations
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Los Angeles trial lawyer Tom Girardi, the husband of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne, was frequently accused of wrongdoing in lawsuits, yet he never faced disciplinary charges by the State Bar of California.
According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, Girardi and his law firm, Girardi Keese, faced at least 45 lawsuits accusing them of legal malpractice or misappropriation of client money. Another estimated 14 suits claimed that lawyers or experts never received fees they had earned. Girardi won some of the cases and settled some of them before trial.
One recent lawsuit, filed Dec. 2, accused Girardi and his law firm of embezzling settlement proceeds intended for widows and orphans who lost loved ones in the October 2018 crash of a Boeing 737 Max. The judge in the case referred Girardi to federal prosecutors.
“What is undisputed,” the Los Angeles Times reported, “is that Girardi had a lot of dissatisfied clients.”
But Girardi escaped ethics charges at a time when he “cultivated close relationships with bar officials that at times appeared improper,” the Los Angeles Times said.
The newspaper’s investigation alleged:
• Girardi invited bar staff members each year to his annual conference in Las Vegas, “where Girardi hosted over-the-top parties at the Wynn casino featuring Jay Leno and other celebrity entertainers.”
• After a lawyer at Girardi’s law firm became bar president in 2009, the bar hired a new executive director, Joe Dunn, who was a friend of Girardi’s. Dunn was accused of violating policy by using a state credit card to pay for airfare to Mongolia while advising on a lawyer regulatory system. Before Dunn submitted an expense report, Girardi’s law firm sent a $5,000 check to the bar.
• While under investigation for misconduct in 2010, Girardi paid for “a lavish retirement bash” for the retiring chief justice of the California Supreme Court, which oversees the bar, and for the departing state bar president. Singer Paul Anka performed at the party, hosted at the state bar’s convention.
• Girardi “forged a particularly tight relationship” with bar investigator Tom Layton. Girardi treated Layton to “pricey meals,” gave two of his children jobs at Girardi’s law firm, allowed Layton to ride on his private jet, and did free legal work for him. Layton, who left the bar in 2015, has said he never worked on any investigation involving Girardi Keese.
“The bar’s inaction came at a profound cost,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Orphans, widows, a burn victim and other vulnerable clients who trusted Girardi to win them justice have instead lost millions of dollars apparently spent or otherwise misappropriated, according to judges’ orders in the recent cases.”
The California bar’s chief trial counsel, Jayne Kim, who was hired to professionalize the state bar’s disciplinary system, expressed concerns about Layton and Dunn. Munger, Tolles & Olson was hired to investigate. Its report raised concerns about ties between some senior officials and Girardi Keese.
Dunn was fired in November 2014, and Layton’s position was eliminated.
A state bar spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that confidentiality rules prevented the bar from answering questions about investigations.
“Beyond those constraints is the reality that much of what you are asking about concerns a time period many years past,” the spokeswoman said. “The current board of trustees and staff leadership team have no knowledge of the information you are seeking.”
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