Lawyer Tom Girardi drew over 200 ethics complaints, California bar says

Thomas Girardi REUTERS/Irfan Khan/Pool

(Reuters) - Plaintiffs' lawyer Tom Girardi was the subject of 205 attorney ethics complaints between 1982 and when he was disbarred in June, more than half accusing him of mishandling client funds, California attorney regulators disclosed Thursday.

The State Bar of California listed every complaint it said it received against Girardi, once a prominent figure in the California and U.S. plaintiffs' bar, including basic descriptions of the allegations against him and how each complaint was resolved.

"Girardi caused irreparable harm to hundreds of his clients, and the state bar could have done more to protect the public. We can never allow something like this to happen again," Ruben Duran, the chair of the state bar's board of trustees, said in the letter.

Girardi's legal career unraveled in December 2020 when his co-counsel in the 2018 Lion Air crash, Chicago plaintiffs' firm Edelson, accused him of stealing more than $2 million in client settlement funds.

Duran said the state bar received 69 complaints against Girardi on or after Dec. 18, 2020, the same day creditors filed a petition forcing him and his now-defunct law firm, Girardi Keese, into bankruptcy.

The state bar cited one of those complaints in its disbarment recommendation to the California Supreme Court, which stripped Girardi of his license in June. Sixty-four other complaints were still pending at the time and were automatically closed, Duran said.

"After a disbarment, there is no further disciplinary action the state bar can take," Duran said. Girardi has also been referred to criminal prosecutors by the Chicago federal judge overseeing the Lion Air case.

Girardi has not responded to the allegations and did not participate in the disciplinary proceedings with the state bar. His legal and personal affairs are handled by his brother and conservator, Robert. Robert Girardi did not respond to a request for comment.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Girardi's chummy relationship with state bar officials enabled him to maintain a clear disciplinary record despite past allegations of misconduct. Duran in his letter said Girardi "brought to light serious failures in the state bar's attorney discipline system."

The state bar said it continues to investigate its handling of past complaints against Girardi. The state bar hired Halpern May Ybarra Gelberg, a Los Angeles-based litigation firm, in January to conduct the investigation.

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.