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State Bar casts doubts on Girardi’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, suggests charges are coming

 Tom Girardi, shown here with his estranged wife, "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star Erika Jayne.
State Bar lawyers say they are poised to file disciplinary charges against Tom Girardi, shown here with his estranged wife, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Erika Jayne.
(Bravo)

The State Bar of California cast doubt Friday on troubled lawyer Tom Girardi’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting it was a possible case of malingering and likely igniting a battle over his mental competency.

Lawyers for the bar raised the questions in a Superior Court filing that also revealed the agency is preparing to move against Girardi’s license. The bar regulates attorneys in California.

Bar investigations and disciplinary proceedings are normally confidential, but the agency disclosed “imminent” charges against Girardi in an attempt to stave off conservatorship proceedings that would impede its ability to prosecute him.

Girardi’s younger brother is seeking appointment as his permanent legal guardian, with a hearing set for Monday, and has offered as evidence the opinion of a Long Beach psychiatrist who examined the lawyer last month and diagnosed him with “Alzheimer’s disease with late onset.” The psychiatrist said Girardi has short-term memory loss, delusions and “severely disorganized thinking.”

An attorney for Girardi’s temporary conservator, Nicholas Van Brunt, said, “No comment to make, except that we will be responding to the filing.” The Long Beach psychiatrist, Nathan Lavid, did not return messages seeking comment.

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James J. Chang, a bar attorney, questioned the legitimacy of the conservatorship proceedings as coming “under highly unusual circumstances” and “only after [Girardi] became enmeshed in mounting legal troubles and as he is facing imminent State Bar discipline.”

He wrote that facts “belie allegations that Girardi is now incapable of caring for himself,” noting that the lawyer had speaking engagements until late November. The bar’s top prosecutor, interim chief trial counsel Melanie Lawrence, listed two appearances Girardi made last fall, including a Nov. 21 event for the Consumer Attorneys of California.

“Mr. Girardi moderated a 1.5-hour long continuing legal education panel discussion ... regarding how to conduct a jury trial and engaged conversantly with the four other attorney panelists,” Lawrence wrote.

The bar lawyers urged the judge overseeing the conservatorship case, Daniel Juarez, to order an independent examination of Girardi by a neuropsychologist.

Girardi’s firm, Girardi Keese, imploded in December after evidence emerged that he had misappropriated millions of dollars in client settlement money. A federal judge referred him for criminal investigation, and creditors subsequently forced him into bankruptcy.

The turn of events stunned the legal community, where Girardi was among the nation’s most renowned and well-connected civil lawyers. Many outside the law knew him as the real-life attorney from the film “Erin Brockovich” and from his appearances on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” alongside his wife, pop singer Erika Jayne.

A Times investigation found that Girardi maintained a spotless record with the bar for decades despite more than 100 suits against him and his firm, including numerous claims of legal malpractice and misappropriation of funds. Girardi cultivated close relationships with bar officials, the newspaper found.

The bar on March 5 notified Girardi that it planned disciplinary action against him. In its filing Friday, the bar said the charges against Girardi alleged that “he has willfully misappropriated client funds and refused to obey a court order.”


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