Early in my career as a litigator, the mention of the name “Tom Girardi” would invoke fear and loathing in defense counsel. Some of it was owed to his reputation – Girardi was “the guy” in plaintiff Personal Injury. If an adjuster was unwilling to settle and then found out that Girardi’s firm was counsel for the plaintiff, he or she might be a lot more willing to up the reserve. The other reason was personality. Although Girardi was charming and likable in front of juries, he was a bully. A tyrant. A loud mouth and intimidating bully, with a willingness to threaten.
My mom read something about Girardi and suggested, as moms frequently make silly suggestions, “Why don’t you work for Mr. Girardi? He seems like a nice man.”
I met Girardi once and that was enough. I would have worked for the Mafia before Girardi – at least gangsters are honest about being terrible people.
Girardi was partly responsible for the record-setting class action settlement of $333,000,000 against PG&E. He was brought in by Ed Masry. Erin Brockovich was the gadfly who got famous over it. Girardi and the trial lawyers made the case.
In a lengthy article in the LA Times on Thursday, Girardi was a self-described limousine liberal and high-flier in Democrat circles. He doled out millions to Democrat politicians including Joe Biden ($11,200), Barack Obama ($62,500) and Hillary Clinton ($60,400), Gov. Gavin Newsom ($66,900), U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein ($18,700), former state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones ($37,244), L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti ($9,500) and City Atty. Mike Feuer ($11,000).
Even as Girardi’s empire of lies was falling apart, he was contributing to Democrat politicians. He and his “famous” wife Erika Jayne (Real Housewives of Beverly Hills) were contributing to Democrats, to the tune of $2 million.
Girardi was known in legal circles for his “look at me” bully tactics and for letting everyone know that he had money to burn. For example, a few years ago, clients and lawyers started to smell a rat. When Boeing was sued over its 737 Max jet crashes, Girardi was co-counsel with Chicago-based attorney Jay Edelson. Dozens of lawyers were on the case as well. When the suit settled Girardi didn’t pay Edelson his fees. Edelson suspected Girardi was taking money that he didn’t earn but because of Girardi’s influence (including his friends in politics) and his perceived reach into the legal profession. Edelson sued Giardi for $100 million for fraud. For most lawyers stiffed by Girardi, it was much like raising concerns in Hollywood. Sure, you can point at bad people abusing others, but “You’ll never work in this town again” would be the voice in their heads. Although they saw Girardi as a bully, he was “connected” in the Democratic political machine. Walk carefully.
But many (if not most) suspected that Girardi was a crook. In 2020, it became clear that Girardi was a human Ponzi scheme. He was broke. His wife divorced him. His jets were gone, and so was the money that he owed legal lenders, co-counsel, and plaintiffs. It was all gone. Girardi had done what he did in front of juries. He had used his charm to convince people that he was the good guy–when in fact he was taking and spending money that wasn’t his. If this sounds a lot like Michael Avenatti, you would be right.
According to multiple accounts including the state bar, Girardi mixed personal accounts with legal accounts and spent client money. According to the LA Times story on Thursday:
“He just spent money whenever he thought about it. He had no clue, as far as investments. Every single investment I saw him make didn’t work out.”
The money was rolling and most of it wasn’t his. Girardi apparently didn’t care. He spent millions upon millions on his lavish lifestyle. As far back as 1998, lawyers were complaining about Girardi’s dubious accounting.
Co-counsel hired a lawyer named Robert Simon to collect fees. Mr. Simon got a letter from Girardi; it read:
You have 48 hours to dismiss this case or I will make sure you never work again in this town.
With kind regards,
Thomas V. Girardi
Girardi attempted to use his well-known bully tactic. It didn’t work. The case was not dismissed; it was settled. Girardi’s bully tactics were on life support.
Because of who Girardi was, the state bar was on to the game and remained silent for many years. Like Avenatti’s misdeeds, if you bark at people loudly and keep being a bully, you are able to get away with stealing money from co-counsel and clients. At least for a while.
Like all Ponzi schemes, Girardi’s crashed and burned. Girardi is out of money and apparently, according to at least one diagnosis, he suffering from dementia.
Girardi is “[s]uffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, writing in a declaration that his short-term memory and logical reasoning were impaired and that he was experiencing delusions and “severely disorganized thinking.”
Girardi was disbarred in August – but the clients’ money is gone. Will the politicians he greased with money that was almost certainly not his return it to clients? Unlikely. Clients and co-counsel got stiffed, while politicians got campaign contributions and lavish dinners with Tom Girardi.