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Former California plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyer Thomas Vincent Girardi has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly embezzling more than $15 million from several of his legal clients, and has been just been declared competent to stand trial despite his claim of advanced dementia.

Girardi owned the downtown Los Angeles-based Girardi Keese law firm. He was once a powerful figure in California’s legal community until creditors forced his law firm into bankruptcy in December 2020.  Along the way he had at least two claims to fame: he played a key role in winning a $333 million settlement for residents of Hinkley, California, in their lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric, a case that later became the basis for the film “Erin Brockovich.” Decades later, he and his wife Erika Jayne were cast on the reality show “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Last year, a Chicago law firm accused star Erika Jayne of acting as a “frontwoman” for her then-husband, Girardi. The court filing called Girardi’s now-shuttered law firm “the largest criminal racketeering enterprise in the history of plaintiffs’ law.”

Girardi gave more than $1 million in gifts and payments to a state bar investigator and his wife, according to a corruption probe released by the State Bar of California. During a 16-month investigation, the State Bar team reviewed over 950,000 documents, issued 23 subpoenas, and interviewed, either voluntarily or under compulsion, 74 witnesses.

The report indicated that Girardi intentionally cultivated relationships at many levels in the State Bar to increase his influence in the agency. The report outlines several instances of past State Bar staff exercising poor judgment, ignoring or poorly handling conflicts of interest, and otherwise behaving unethically. None of the individuals identified as engaging in unethical conduct remain affiliated with or employed by the State Bar. Girardi was finally disbarred in 2022.

And late last month, a Los Angeles federal judge ruled that Girardi is competent enough to stand trial despite claims he suffers from late-onset Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The 52 page Order written by U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton was filed under seal until attorneys for both sides are able to decide whether any information – such as health records – should remain confidential. The Order was unsealed on January 5. The decision comes after the federal judge presided over a three-day hearing last year.

Girardi’s lawyers argued that he resides in a dementia ward because he has no short-term memory. They said he does not recognize them or remember the criminal case. They entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf last year due to competency concerns.

However, the Order noted that there “were no contemporaneous anecdotal reports (i.e., text messages, emails, letters) of Defendant’s alleged cognitive decline from 2017 through the end of 2020. The first of such anecdotal reports were made to Defendant’s lawyer and/or experts related to the conservatorship proceeding in 2021.” However a number of his acquaintances were interviewed and recalled a decline in his memory and performance after a motor vehicle accident and a subsequent fall both of which caused head injuries.

However there were many inconsistencies reviewed in the Order. For example the Judge noted that Girardi claimed difficulty remembering his wife of over 20 years, Erika, However the Order noted that during an interview with an evaluator he “refused to silence his cell phone, and took calls from his wife. Specifically, after having said earlier he did not remember having a third wife, he answered a phone call from the woman who had in fact been his third wife for twenty years, accurately remembering she was leaving for Spain on that day to film a television show and accurately identifying her as an ‘ex.’ “

Dr. Diana S. Goldstein, a psychologist retained by the Government, conducted a psychological and neurocognitive evaluation of Girardi on three consecutive days in late April 2023. Dr, Goldstein, said “Mr. Girardi’s clinical presentation is not one of severe amnesia, but in my opinion a deliberate attempt at deception, an intentional embellishment of mild cognitive impairment for secondary gain, in this particular matter, an adaptive attempt to avoid prosecution.” She opined that Girardi “meets both criteria of mental competency to stand trial.”

Dr. R. Ryan Darby, a neurologist with specialization in behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry reviewed records and interviewed Girardi over the course of three days. Dr. Darby concluded that Girardi “is malingering or exaggerating the severity of his memory impairment.” And found his “patterns of confabulation to be atypical and non-credible.”

Dr. Darby went on to say Girardi’s decline in hygiene was noted to coincide with his forensic evaluations beginning in April 2023. Most notably, Defendant ‘began wearing the same burgundy sweater to all evaluations.  Dr. Darby found particularly probative the fact that, according to the assisted living staff, Girardi would search out the same clothes day after day. He explained that wearing the same clothes on successive days is found in “[p]atients with memory problems,” but that is because they simply “forget to change” clothes. Such patients typically “do not actively seek out dirty clothes to wear,” which tends to show intact memory rather than memory problems

The Order also noted that the “timing of Defendant’s reported symptoms is highly suspect. On November 21, 2020, Defendant moderated a panel and commented appropriately on the detailed presentations of four other successful trial lawyers. A mere three weeks later, on December 14, 2020, when Defendant was facing a civil contempt sanction and facing accusations that he unlawfully withheld settlement funds from his clients, the very first claim of ongoing mental impairment arose.”

The Judge concluded the timing of defendant’s reported symptoms and Multiple clinical observations by experts support a finding of partial malingering, and that he meets the competency criteria to stand trial.