Disbarred Los Angeles attorney Tom Girardi funneled more than $1 million in gifts and payments to a State Bar investigator and the investigator’s wife, a USC accounting professor, according to a report released Friday.
The long-awaited report, the result of a year-and-a-half investigation by a law firm working for the board of directors of the State Bar Association, outlined Girardi’s corruption of the agency beyond what was previously known. publicly knew.
In addition to the money and gifts he directed to investigator Tom Layton and his wife, Rose, the report documented that State Bar officials close to Girardi suppressed complaints that reached the agency about the attorney’s alleged misconduct.
At least eight complaints were dismissed by Bar Association employees whose ties to the wealthy lawyer “tainted their decisions to close the cases,” according to a summary of the report by law firm Halpern May Ybarra Gelberg LLP. In addition, senior executives close to the attorney fired under “questionable” circumstances two agency prosecutors who were advocating action against Girardi’s license, according to the summary.
“The magnitude and duration of the violations reveal persistent institutional failures and a shocking past culture of unethical and unacceptable behavior,” said Rubén Durán, president of the board of directors of the State Bar Association, in a statement.
The release of the report was part of the board’s attempt to move the agency beyond the Girardi scandal. Despite over a hundred lawsuits against the attorney and more than 155 complaints over the decades, the State Bar Association took no action against him until March 2021. By then, his law firm had collapsed and a federal judge had referred him for a criminal investigation. related to the alleged misappropriation of millions of dollars of client settlement funds.
None of the officials accused of having inappropriate relationships with Girardi still work for the State Bar Association, according to the agency. Layton was fired in 2015. The Times has detailed how he functioned as Girardi’s social secretary and chauffeur while collecting a paycheck from the State Bar Association. Girardi provided pro bono legal representation when the Laytons sued her general contractor and employed two of her sons at the Girardi Keese firm.
Of the cash and valuables Girardi directed to the Laytons, the summary says these “payments and gifts were never properly disclosed.” Other State Bar employees and members of the agency’s board of directors also secretly accepted gifts and other benefits from Girardi, according to the summary.
Even when complaints against Girardi were referred outside the agency due to recognized conflicts of interest, top officials and bar association employees continued to meddle in his handling, according to the report. In one cited example, Bob Hawley, a former bar clerk who rose to the position of interim CEO, “wrote phantom decisions on matters assigned to outside counsel without disclosing the fact, including a decision to recommend closure of a complaint against Girardi,” the report said.
The findings of the 16-month investigation were drawn from a review of more than 950,000 documents and interviews with 74 witnesses, some of whom, including Layton, had to be forced to sit down for questioning by a state judge.
Durán highlighted several reforms the agency had instituted in recent years in an attempt to identify and prevent unethical behavior.
“Providing this disclosure is a necessary step to demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accountability and restore public trust,” Duran said.
Once one of the most powerful lawyers in the state, Girardi is suspected of stealing tens of millions of dollars from clients and colleagues. Now 83, he is bankrupt, facing federal wire fraud charges in two jurisdictions and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.