From Legend to Disgraced Lawyer: The Fall of Tom Girardi

Tom Girardi rose to fame after the Erin Brockovich film made him somewhat of a hero. Although he was already an accomplished trial lawyer, being on the legal team representing Brockovich against PG&E boosted him to become one of California’s most powerful lawyers. He went on to win billions for his future clients.

Tom Girardi / Erika Jayne / Joe Ruigomez / Tom Girardi, Erika Jayne.
Source: Getty Images

His fame increased when his wife, Erika Girardi, joined the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in 2015. However, on Election Day 2020, the news of Erika filing for divorce set off a chain of events that has left Girardi’s personal and professional life in shambles.

The Power of Persuasion

There are various reasons why people want to get into law, but Tom Girardi was largely influenced by the show Perry Mason, which he watched every Saturday night. Girardi was fascinated by the way Mason used the power of persuasion to win his cases without raising his voice or being disrespectful.

A picture of Girardi in court.
Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Girardi started practicing persuasion early in his life. He said, “We persuaded our mom at age five to stay up late. We persuaded our dad at age 16 to give us the keys to the big car.” Girardi had wanted to become a lawyer since he was young, practicing his skills long before law school.

His Rise to Becoming a Lawyer

After graduating from Loyola High School in 1957, Girardi attended Loyola Marymount University to study pre-law. He later obtained his doctor of law degree from Loyola Law School and his LL.M from NYU in 1965. Within the first five years of his tenure, Girardi proved to be a powerful lawyer.

A dated picture of Girardi with his wife.
Source: Pinterest

Girardi had a strong presence in the courtroom, becoming the first attorney in California to win over $1 million for a medical malpractice case in 1970. He and Robert Keese started the Los Angeles-based law firm Girardi & Keese in 1965 to represent clients in a variety of legal areas.

They Loved Him

Early in his career, Girardi represented Mr. and Mrs. Esperanza, whose Coleman lantern dripped hot gas on Mrs. Esperanza’s face while they were camping. Girardi helped them sue Coleman. But Coleman’s lawyers proved that the lantern wasn’t defective, and the couple lost the case. It was disappointing for Girardi.

A portrait of Girardi.
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Mrs. Esperanza was seven months pregnant with scars on her face during the trial. When she had the baby a few months later, they named it Girard after Girardi because of his dedication to their case. The couple told him, “Tom, we wanted him to have the same heart as you.” They thought he was amazing.

Putting His Name on the Map

While Girardi was already an established lawyer by 1993, his representation of Hinkley, California residents against PG&E made him one of the country’s top lawyers. Girardi and his team went up against the energy giant after the town’s residents blamed incidents of cancer and diseases on contaminated water leaked from a gas station owned by PG&E.

An image of Erin Brockovich addressing a rally.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Girardi got the utility company to settle, agreeing to pay the residents over $600 million in damages. The case inspired the film Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts, putting Girardi’s name on the map. He was thanked in the movie’s credits and served as an advisor on the film.

Monumental Wins

The win against PG&E led to Girardi’s triumphs against pharmaceutical giant Merk and the Ford Motor Company. He obtained a $4.85 billion settlement for personal injuries to consumers of the drug Vioxx. Girardi also won $45.5 million after a defective seatbelt paralyzed a young boy.

A photo of Girardi leaving the courthouse.
Photo by Christine Jegan

He wasn’t afraid to go up against massive companies because he had a record of winning. Girardi also represented people in smaller cases, like Bryan Stow. The Giants’ baseball fan was left brain-damaged after two men nearly killed him in the parking lot after a game.

He Rubbed Elbows With Powerful People

In 2003, Girardi was inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame by the California State Bar. He had friends in high places and was well connected, which made Girardi untouchable. He donated millions to political campaigns, making him a confidant of influential lawmakers and judges.

A photo of Girardi at the office.
Source: Pinterest

Girardi was also highly regarded by the California State Bar. He was a powerhouse in the world of law and beyond. Everyone knew Girardi’s name and wanted his firm to take on their cases. He had a reputation for winning big settlements, so he was the man to turn to for help.

Flaunting His Wealth

Not only was Girardi powerful, but he was also worth millions. He took up to 40 percent of his legal victories and wasn’t afraid to flaunt his wealth. He and his third wife, Erika, showed off their lavish lifestyle when she joined the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in 2015.

A still of Girardi and Erika in an episode from The Real Housewives.
Source: YouTube

Erika proudly showed off their massive mansion, two private planes, closets full of designer clothes, and luxury sports cars. She also described how Girardi funded her singing career. Lawyers are rich, but this was an unusual amount of wealth, even for a high-profile lawyer.

A Young Waitress

Girardi met Erika in the late 1990s at Chasen’s, where he was a co-owner, and she waited tables. The striking blonde 28-year-old with a young son had dreams of stardom, and Girardi was a powerful 60-year-old lawyer. Their age gap was significant, but Erika was attracted to his mind.

Erika poses for the press.
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Shortly after they started dating, Erika tossed her waitress uniform in the trash and moved into Girardi’s mansion. The couple spontaneously married in 2000 at the LA Country Club, where a judge at the bar officiated their wedding and another attorney was their witness.

No Prenup

While Girardi had millions and Erika had nothing to her name, the couple did not get a prenuptial agreement. At the time of their marriage, Girardi was in the midst of a dispute over dividing his assets with his second wife, but he took the same risk with Erika.

A dated photo of Erika attending an event.
Photo by Michael Caulfield/Getty Images

Erika later admitted that Girardi was such a good lawyer that even if they had had a prenup, it would have meant nothing in court. With or without a prenup, Erika would still be left in financial ruins.

The First Time He Met Girardi

In September 2010, Joe Ruigomez watched the opening day of the NFL season with his girlfriend. However, the ground beneath them soon began shaking, and an explosion caused their home to be engulfed by a fireball. Ruigomez somehow made it out.

A still of Joe Ruigomez during an interview.
Joe Ruigomez. Source: YouTube

Burns covered 80 to 90 percent of his body, and his lungs were seared. Ruigomez went into a coma, and his girlfriend perished in the explosion due to a faulty gas pipeline. When he woke up days later, the first person he talked to was Girardi.

He Told Them to Invest

Once again, Girardi went up against PG&E, winning millions for Ruigomez. After settling the lawsuit, Girardi told the Ruigomez family that it would take three months to process the funds and asked if they wanted to put the money in one of his investments.

Joe Ruigomez stands at the site of the gas pipe line explosion.
Joe Ruigomez. Photo by Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

In a letter to the family, Girardi wrote, “The primary reason I am trying to manage the young man’s funds is so that nothing goes wrong.” He also told them he was “in their corner” and “never liked a family more than them.” But something wasn’t right.

Late Payments

Girardi said he was worried about a young person getting too much money at once and sent Ruigomez monthly payments from the settlement. However, Ruigomez said the payments were never on time, and Girardi was hard to get ahold of.

A still of Joe Ruigomez during a televised interview.
Joe Ruigomez. Source: YouTube

Ruigomez alleged that the checks would come late, but by 2017, the payments disappeared completely. Girardi would say, “Oh, sorry about that. These things happen.” However, the money never came, and he still owed Ruigomez $12 million, and he still needed a lifetime of medical care.

They Sued Girardi

Settlement funds are supposed to go to a trust account separate from the law firm. Lawyers are entitled to fees, but the rest goes to the client. Lawyers are not supposed to touch their client’s money and are immediately disbarred if caught. But Girardi got away with it.

An image of Girardi and Erika at the entrance to their home.
Source: Bravo Tv

While Ruigomez and his family watched Girardi flaunt his wealth on TV, they were not receiving the money owed to them and started to wonder how Girardi was funding his lavish lifestyle. In 2019, the Ruigomez family sued Girardi for the remaining funds.

Shifting the Blame

When Ruigomez would call Girardi about a late payment, he would shift the blame to Justice Panelli. Justice Panelli was the family’s mediator in the settlement between them and PG&E. Girardi told Ruigomez that Panelli was concerned about the risks of giving so much money to a young man.

A picture of Girardi.
Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

However, Justice Panelli’s involvement in the case ended when the settlement was signed. He had no idea what Girardi was doing, but Girardi used him as a scapegoat. The Ruigomez family wanted justice, and their lawsuit was just the first of many against Girardi.

The Widows and Orphans

Ruigomez was just one of the many people Girardi withheld money from. In 2018, a Lion Air domestic flight in Indonesia crashed 13 minutes after takeoff, killing everyone on board. The victims’ families sued Boeing using different lawyers, and Girardi represented a few of them.

A portrait of Girardi.
Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Although the widows and orphans of those killed won the lawsuit, the families represented by Girardi never saw their money. Some received part of the settlement, and others received nothing. Meanwhile, those represented by other lawyers got their money quickly.

Warning Signs

Hints of financial troubles at Girardi’s firm surfaced in 2015. He and Erika were becoming household names on Bravo’s RHOBH, but Girardi felt he had nothing to hide. The problems in 2015 stemmed from a $17 million settlement he won for women who developed cancer after taking hormone replacements.

A still of Girardi and Erika sitting at home in an episode from reality tv.
Source: Bravo Tv

The payout from Girardi didn’t match the sum anticipated, and his clients requested an accounting. When Girardi’s firm refused, some of the women filed a lawsuit against Girardi for over $10 million. Girardi borrowed $17 million from high-interest lenders to pay the women.

Keeping the Firm Afloat

Girardi turned to high-interest lenders again and again for help. He was so secretive about what he was doing that the companies giving him money did not know other lenders were holding the same collateral. Girardi put up anticipated fees from lawsuits as collateral.

Erika speaks during an interview.
Source: Bravo Tv

The loans had up to 20 percent interest fees and even higher interest rates for missed payments. Girardi said his net worth was $264 million in 2018, but creditors grew concerned when Girardi’s firm hadn’t paid their debts. They also saw that the loans were being used for outside purposes.

Everything Came Crumbling Down

After nine months of demanding repayment, one of the lenders filed a lawsuit in 2019, alleging the money loaned was being spent on “Mr. Girardi’s lavish lifestyle.” He was outraged over the accusations and managed to settle with the lender, but other creditors were already lining up with lawsuits.

Erika cries during an interview.
Source: Bravo Tv

The creditors were asking for millions, but Girardi didn’t have the money. Ruigomez was also waiting for his money. The lawsuits piled up against Girardi, and he couldn’t hide behind his powerful connections anymore.

What Did Tom Girardi Do?

In January 2020, Girardi agreed to pay Ruigomez the remaining $12 million from his settlement. However, he only received $1 million. The family had had enough, so they dragged Girardi to court. As a result, legal papers were served to Girardi, his firm, Erika, and his travel agents, among others.

An image of Ruigomez with family and friends.
Photo by Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

He has since been accused of stealing millions from vulnerable clients, including the widows and orphans of the 2018 Lion Airplane crash victims, and he hasn’t repaid the lenders. His employees started to worry, and most of the lawyers quit their jobs at Girardi’s firm.

He Was Broke

After chasing Girardi for a few years, Ruigomez’s new legal team finally had a chance to confront Girardi about his assets. In September 2020, Girardi testified on a video call about his financial situation. He said he was once worth $50 to $80 million, but that was “all gone.”

A still of Ruigomez during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Girardi admitted that he had “maybe a couple thousand” dollars in his personal account. When asked about his income, he said, “I haven’t taken a penny in salary in more than two years.” He couldn’t explain what happened to the money from settlements.

Why Are Erika and Tom Girardi Getting Divorced?

Erika was also named in the lawsuits against Girardi because he put $20 million into her company. Before she was due to appear in court, Erika filed for divorce in November 2020. She cited irreconcilable differences, telling her RHOBH castmates that Girardi had been cheating.

An image of Erika during an interview.
Source: Bravo Tv

However, because of Girardi’s lawsuits, many people saw the timing as suspicious. Many wondered if she knew he was using money from settlements to fund their lifestyle. Erika said Girardi kept her in the dark about their finances, and she only used credit cards without knowing their finances.

He Broke Promises

Even after admitting under oath that he was broke, Girardi put on a confident face to people demanding money. He left voicemails to clients in November 2020, saying, “We screwed up here a little bit. I’m so sorry, this never happened before. Everything will be smoothed over on Thursday.”

An image of Girardi in court during a trial.
Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

As you might have guessed, nothing was fixed. A federal judge in Illinois overseeing the case for the victims’ families of the Lion Air crash asked Girardi to explain what happened to the $2 million owed to his clients. Girardi didn’t have an answer, and he couldn’t explain where the money had gone.

Like a Ponzi Scheme

When more facts came to light, many realized Girardi was running his firm like a Ponzi scheme. He would use the money from settlements to pay previous creditors and clients. Girardi would wait until more money came in when he had to pay current clients.

A portrait of Girardi in his office.
Photo by Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The cycle worked for a while until everything caught up with him. He owed more money than he had and couldn’t borrow from more lenders. No one at the firm knew how bad the finances were because Girardi kept everything a secret.

His Mental Health Was Questioned

Girardi couldn’t explain to either his lawyers or the judge where the money from the settlements had gone. His lawyers said Girardi had “issues of his mental competence” and asked the judge to order a mental health exam. It seemed bizarre because he was mentally sharp a few months earlier.

A still of Erika and Girardi walking in their garden.
Source: Bravo Tv

On an episode of RHOBH filmed before Girardi’s legal downfall, he was seen telling stories from his past to Erika’s castmates. He showed no signs of being incompetent or weak. However, his lawyers seemed to think there was something wrong with him that could help his case.

Forced Bankruptcy

In December 2020, a federal judge froze Girardi’s assets and those of his law firm. However, the step came too late because the firm’s operating account contained just $15,000. Girardi was also forced to file for bankruptcy because he refused to pay his bills and settlements.

A portrait of Girardi.
Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

As a result, creditors started going after Erika because they believed she benefited from the embezzled money, whether she knew where it came from or not. Girardi’s firm also owed $517 million in liabilities; a staggering figure given Girardi had no assets left.

They Needed to Pay the Creditors

The creditors in the bankruptcy case wanted their money, and because Girardi couldn’t pay, the law firm started auctioning off items stored at the Girardi & Keese offices. These items included a Cadillac, piano, art, wine, vintage books, furniture, and sports and entertainment memorabilia.

Girardi poses for a professional portrait in his firm.

The fancy Wilshire Boulevard offices were left in disarray as things like a signed poster of Julia Roberts from the Erin Brockovich film were removed. Auctioneers also found an expensive lingerie set in Girardi’s desk, which wasn’t intended to be a gift to Erika.

His Brother Became His Conservator

After conducting a mental health exam, doctors diagnosed Girardi with dementia in July 2021. Girardi’s brother, Robert, filed letters of conservatorship, but Girardi has been outspoken about this. He disagreed that he needed a conservatory and wanted it dissolved in court.

An exterior shot of the Girardi offices.
Source: Google

Despite the diagnosis, many, including fans and RHOBH cast members, aren’t convinced. In a scene from RHOBH, Erika’s castmates said Girardi was “a young 81” and mentioned that “his mind is 100 percent there.” No one ever noticed that he had symptoms of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

He Lost His Legal License

It was long overdue, but the California State Bar disbarred Girardi in June 2021. He had a clean record because of his improper relationship with Bar officials and didn’t even have malpractice insurance. However, people filed complaints against him to the Bar for several years.

An interior shot of the Girardi offices.
Source: Pinterest

The State Bar is supposed to protect the public from corrupt and unethical attorneys, but they failed to discipline or investigate Girardi. The California State Bar opened an investigation into those who might have helped Girardi cover his tracks, finding complaints that go back 40 years.

Where Is Tom Girardi Living Now?

Girardi was forced to move out of his $10 million Pasadena mansion in the bankruptcy case so it could be sold to pay back creditors. As a result, Girardi was moved to a memory care facility in California following his dementia diagnosis.

An exterior shot of the senior living facility.
Source: Pinterest

Although the senior living facility is nothing like his former residence, it is much nicer than most assisted living residences. Girardi’s accommodations are said to cost between $4,500 and $4,700 per month, and we wonder where that money is coming from, considering he is broke.

Time to Pay

Girardi has been sued over 100 times by now, and he was recently ordered to pay $2.3 million-plus interest in restitution from the money he reportedly stole. He was also hit with $5,000 in sanctions, but how will he pay for all of this?

A dated still of Girardi during an interview.
Source: YouTube

His Pasadena mansion was put on the market for $13 million, but the price has been reduced to $7.98 million. Creditors say the sale would bring in a large amount to pay off some of Girardi’s debts. His La Quinta home was also sold for $1.25 million.

Going After Erika

Girardi isn’t the only one creditor are coming for. Although Erika filed for divorce shortly before Girardi’s misdeeds were exposed, she is still being held accountable. She claims she did not know what her husband was doing, but she is being sued for $25 million.

A still of Erika.
Source: YouTube

Erika has moved to dismiss the case because she allegedly never knew Girardi was using embezzled money to pay the bills for her company. Her name was recently removed from the lawsuit in early 2022, but her legal troubles are far from over.

Hand Over the Earrings

The trustee presiding over Girardi’s bankruptcy case asked Erika to return a pair of diamond earrings that were reportedly purchased using the victims’ money. Girardi purchased the earrings for Erika for $750,000 in 2007; they are now worth $1.4 million. But Erika doesn’t want to give them back.

Erika Jayne walks the street.
Photo by MEGA/GC Images/Getty Images

She claimed they were a gift from her husband, and she believed he was financially successful during their marriage. However, the trustee said if Erika tried to keep the earrings, she could face a $5.4 million judgment. Erika is now trying to settle by offering a deal.

Where Is Tom Girardi Now?

The 83-year-old former lawyer is still in the mental care facility. According to Erika, he thinks he is still practicing law, and his mental state continues to decline. She said Girardi calls her and has trouble remembering who she is on the phone.

A dated image of Girardi with his co-workers at his firm.
Source: Pinterest

Girardi’s mental state will only continue to decline if Erika’s statements are true. Erika says she misses “the fun, bright, intelligent person” Girardi used to be before “he was ill.” However, she maintains that she was unaware of his criminal actions.

What’s Next In the Case?

As of now, the trustee in the bankruptcy case is selling whatever he can to pay back creditors and victims. A law firm in Chicago filed a $50 million lawsuit against Erika and former Girardi & Keese lawyers for stealing money from clients.

Erika attends an event.
Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Erika’s lawyers have said that she had no knowledge and shouldn’t be blamed for her husband’s actions. However, it is unknown whether Erika knew what Girardi was doing. Lawyers subpoenaed Bravo for unaired footage from RHOBH Season 11 to see what Erika said about the case.

Should She Be Held Accountable?

According to Erika’s lawyers, she has cooperated with the trustee by putting the diamond earrings in an escrow account pending a final judicial resolution. The trustee agreed to this offer but claimed her conduct is a “new crime.” Erika’s lawyers questioned why everyone is “piling up” on her.

Erika walks the street.
Photo by JOCE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

The earrings were purchased 15 years ago, and her lawyers said the trustee should go after the Girardi & Keese partner who signed the check for the earrings. Instead, trustees are focusing on Erika and not going after the attorneys, accountants, and funders closer to Girardi.

She Can’t Pay

Although Erika makes a decent amount starring on RHOBH, she recently said she could not pay the $2.2 million in back taxes to the California Tax Board. However, Erika is still paying for her expensive glam team, which she once said cost her $40,000 per month.

Erika poses for the press.
Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Things are not looking good for Erika, especially after she said the widows and orphans might be lying about not being paid in a scene on RHOBH. Even though people are calling for her to be fired from the show, her legal drama has kept the show’s ratings high, and she needs the money.