Jan 8, 2021
The attorney-client relationship is based on trust and respect. Particularly in cases involving personal injury or sexual assault claims, a client approaches an attorney at what is often their most difficult and vulnerable moment. Maintaining trust throughout the legal process is paramount, and vital to ensuring the case reaches a successful outcome. Breaching that trust can have a devastating impact on not only the attorney-client relationship, but also the case itself.
The slogan for the Girardi Keese firm states, “We treat our clients like family.” That’s the sort of sentiment that is necessary in cases involving car accidents with catastrophic injuries, wrongful death claims, sex crimes, product liability, and the like. In such cases, the outcome of a case can have a profoundly positive or negative impact on a client. As such, the attorney essentially has the client’s life in their hands, and that responsibility requires an adherence to the attorneys’ code of ethics.
However, as evinced below, when the slogan is proven to be nothing more than empty rhetoric, the fallout can leave clients – those already facing difficult circumstances – feeling betrayed, duped, and with unanswered questions that ultimately pose new challenges to their case and their well-being.
Thomas Girardi, founder of the prominent Los Angeles law firm, Girardi Keese, has been accused of embezzling money from his clients in cases dating back over a decade. Girardi is a high-profile member of the plaintiffs’ bar, and was the inspiration for the Kurt Potter character (played by Peter Coyote) in Erin Brockovich.
Last month, Girardi Keese was sued by its co-counsel, Edelson PC, in litigation against Boeing stemming from the 2018 crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia. Edelson discovered that some of their clients hadn’t received their settlement awards, and immediately alerted U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, who is overseeing the Boing litigation. Edelson alleges that at least $2 million is missing from the clients’ settlement trust accounts, and Girardi Keese is in dire financial straights due to Thomas Girardi embezzling funds for years to furnish a lavish lifestyle with his wife, Erika Jayne. Jayne is best known for appearing on the television program Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
“This isn’t that difficult: You learned in law school, we all did, in Ethics 101, that when you get money that belongs to a client, you put it in an escrow fund and you don’t touch it,” Judge Durkin said via a teleconference hearing last month. “No matter what your personal financial situation is, no matter what kind of pressures you’re under, if you touch client money, you’re going to be disbarred and quite possibly charged criminally.”
The complaint from Edelson’s lawsuit alleges, “Tom Girardi and his law firm Girardi Keese?… presently owe tens of millions of dollars.” The complaint goes on to state that, “As a result, and most egregiously, Tom has resorted to embezzling the proceeds of settlements that should have been directed to his clients – including, as the basis for this [lawsuit], the widows and orphans who lost loved ones in the tragic crash of Lion Air flight 610 – in order to continue funding his and Erika’s lavish Beverly Hills lifestyles.”
Additionally, the complaint alleges that in November Mr. Girardi left Edelson a voicemail saying, “We screwed up here a little bit …We had three different air crashes, and they got a little screwed up … I’m so sorry, this never happened before.”
Following the December hearing, several creditors claiming to be owed millions filed two petitions for involuntary bankruptcy – one against Girardi, and another against the Girardi Keese firm.
This week, the U.S. Trustees office filed paperwork naming two Los Angeles attorneys who will take control of assets held by both Girardi and the Girardi Keese firm. The move sets the debtors on the path for Chapter 7 bankruptcy litigation unless they raise an objection by week’s end.
Law.com has called the Thomas Girardi scandal a “coordinated cover-up.”
Girardi Keese was founded in 1965. The firm represented countless clients over the years in personal injury, wrongful death, commercial litigation, products liability, bad faith insurance, and toxic tort cases (among others). It was one of the most high-profile firms serving residents of California, and now appears to be shuttered and on the verge of bankruptcy.
With that in mind, what should former clients of Girardi Keese do now that the firm’s embezzlement and egregiously unprofessional conduct has come to light?
If, as Judge Durkin stated, Girardi were disbarred, the impacted clients would have to be notified. Pursuant to Rule 27 of the American Bar Association’s Model Rules for Attorney Disciplinary Enforcement, a lawyer who is disbarred or suspended from practicing law must, within 10 days of the date when discipline was imposed, send a notice to all clients, opposing counsel, and any co-counsel, notifying them that the lawyer is no longer able to act as a lawyer in the matter. Additionally, attorneys are typically required to notify clients (as well as co-counsel and opposing counsel) within 10 days of being disbarred or suspended.
If upfront fees have been paid for legal services that have yet to be completed, those funds should automatically be refunded (although given the “dire financial straits” allegations, a refund may not be precisely automatic for Girardi Keese clients). The disbarred attorney is also required to return any case files to you, which you will want to present to your new attorney.
But regardless of whether or not Girardi is disbarred, the firm appears to be shut down, and clients (both those with active cases and those with closed cases who need to find attorneys for future representation) are likely fleeing in droves. Those clients will need to find new representation, but how can they ensure that another attorney won’t take advantage of them once again?
We’ve put together some blogs that provide valuable tips for how to find the best attorney to win your case. Take a look at one of our blogs that outlines 4 steps for finding the best personal injury lawyer, and another that discusses what makes Dordulian Law Group the best sexual assault firm in California (and includes suggested questions to ask a potential attorney).
Our ‘Smart Search Checklist‘ for finding the best attorney includes the following steps:
Points 2-4 are fairly self-explanatory. Point 1, however, requires a bit of explanation to help clients differentiate between mega-firms (commonly referred to as ‘settlement mills’) and firms like DLG that are completely dedicated, unafraid to take a case to trial, and focused on achieving the best possible outcome for your claim.
A settlement mill is typically a personal injury law firm that relies heavily on advertising as a means of generating business and procuring clients. Settlement mills often litigate a disproportionate amount of their cases, meaning that their first instinct may be to settle a case in order to pay the advertising bills. At Dordulian Law Group, we generate the majority of our business through referrals from other satisfied clients and word-of-mouth recommendations. We never utilize a ‘mill mentality’ when handling cases because we don’t have to, and we are always prepared to go to trial if it is in the best interest of the client and the ultimate damages award they receive. Unfortunately, that’s not how settlement mill firms operate.
Settlement mills frequently leave money on the table when finalizing a settlement. This can be the result of constant concern with closing a certain volume of personal injury cases each month in order to pay the advertising budget. And it can adversely impact your case, which is why it’s so important to identify advertisements from websites when searching online for a new attorney. At DLG, you can be confident that your case will be handled according to your best interests, not whether or not the advertising budget (or an attorney’s lavish lifestyle) needs to be covered.
Finding the best lawyer to represent you requires research and due diligence. If you have questions regarding your case or would like to discuss anything with a member of the Dordulian Law Group team, contact us 24/7.
At DLG, we pride ourselves on treating clients as members of our extended family. That’s not an empty advertising slogan – it’s a company culture that we’ve had in place since our inception. Throughout that time we’ve successfully recovered over $100 million for car accidents, families with wrongful death claims, sexual assault survivors, and all other types of personal injury victims.
Take a look at some of our testimonials and see what it means for clients to have the DLG advantage. We’re tireless and fearless advocates for all injured victims, and are dedicated to helping you recover the maximum financial damages award for your case.
Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 to discuss the details of your case, learn more about your rights under the law, and discover why DLG is the best choice for California injury victims. There is never any obligation to speak with a team member, and with DLG you do not have to worry about paying anything out-of-pocket. There is no fee unless we win your case and recover monetary damages for you.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and workers compensation concerns.