By Kirstin Jensvold-Rumage
On March 12, 2021, the State Bar of California filed a verified objection to a petition for temporary conservatorship of attorney Thomas Girardi’s person and estate in Conservatorship of Thomas V. Girardi, Case No. 21STPB00413, in Probate Court in the Superior Court of Los Angeles. On February 1, 2021, the court granted in part a petition by Girardi’s brother, Robert Girardi, to appoint him as temporary conservator of Girardi and his estate, including Girardi’s now-bankrupt law firm, Girardi Keese. The petition for conservatorship was based on arguments that Girardi suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and was unable to care for himself.
In the March 12 objection, the State Bar notes the “highly unusual circumstances” of the petition for conservatorship, namely the timeliness of this conservatorship and medical diagnosis in anticipation of State Bar disciplinary proceedings. Arguing that Girardi’s claims of dementia are simply a strategy to avoid discipline, the State Bar offers evidence that Girardi instructed Continuing Legal Education courses as recently as October and November 2020. The Bar’s objection notes Girardi himself has not asserted that he lacks the capacity to participate in the State Bar proceeding.
The conservatorship petition came days after the Los Angeles Times published its investigation on March 6, 2021, of Girardi’s long-standing ties to the State Bar and his ability to avoid discipline despite hundreds of malpractice and financial mismanagement suits filed against Girardi and Girardi Keese since the 1980s. Girardi’s past misconduct came to the public’s attention after Girardi was found in civil contempt in December 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois after admitting to $2 million in unpaid client settlement funds for surviving family members of the Indonesian Lion Air Flight JT 610 crash, in which Girardi Keese represented the class. Among other things, the LA Times investigation raises questions as to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Bar’s discipline system.
On March 30, 2021, the State Bar filed a Notice of Disciplinary Charges against Girardi in State Bar Court. In fourteen counts, the Bar charged Girardi with violating multiple codes and rules, including Business and Professions Code section 6106: Moral Turpitude—False Statement in a Settlement Disbursement and Moral Turpitude—Misappropriation, California lawyer Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15(a): Failure to Maintain Funds in Trust Account, and Rule 1.15(d)(7): Failure to Distribute Funds Promptly, both a breach of fiduciary duty. The charges relate to two cases handled by Girardi and Girardi Keese, including $2,000,000 in unpaid settlement funds to the surviving families for In re: Lion Air Flight JT 610 Crash and $55,944.02 in unpaid settlement funds to the plaintiffs in Josefina Hernandez and Michael Hernandez v. AMS. In its charges regarding Hernandez, the Bar charges Girardi with “intentional misrepresentation,” or the highest level of violation under Business and Professions Code section 6106. However, if Girardi is deemed “incompetent” and his conservatorship stands, the State Bar cannot proceed with disciplinary proceedings.
On March 15, 2021, the probate court overruled the Bar’s challenge and extended the temporary conservatorship to June 30, 2021. At this writing, a hearing to review the temporary conservatorship over Girardi is scheduled for June 9, 2021. On April 1, 2021, two State Bar judges voluntarily recused themselves from overseeing the disciplinary proceedings. As of April 2, the Honorable Yvette D. Roland will preside over the matter in State Bar Court. Girardi’s license to practice law has been suspended since March 9, 2021, when the State Bar placed him on “inactive status.” Presently, with disciplinary charges pending, Girardi’s State Bar profile lists him as “Not Eligible to Practice Law in California.” Bankruptcy proceedings for the Girardi Keese law firm are ongoing. See In re Girardi Keese, No. 2:20-bk-21022-BR (Bankr. C.D. Cal.).