Why and how we reported the Armenian genocide story

Documents from the AXA settlement case.
(Los Angeles Times photo illustration)

What led The Times to examine the insurance settlements?

In the wake of the collapse of prominent L.A. attorney Tom Girardi’s law firm in 2020, The Times investigated the State Bar of California. Reporters learned that Girardi cultivated close ties with officials at the agency responsible for investigating lawyers even as he was the subject of numerous complaints from disgruntled or cheated clients.

Reporters obtained a draft lawsuit prepared by State Bar lawyers that accused an agency investigator of sneaking into the bar headquarters on a weekend in 2015. It alleged that the investigator had copied a confidential case file on “an attorney with whom he was close.”

After the Girardi story was published last year, the State Bar provided The Times with public records that contained additional clues about the copied case file. Those records showed that an allegation of “moral turpitude” had been made against three Los Angeles attorneys whose names were redacted. The records also noted that one of the lawyers was representing the investigator.


In the mid-2000s, attorneys won a pair of legal settlements for $37.5 million in the names of Armenian genocide victims. But families who stepped forward to collect on behalf of ancestors in one settlement had their claims rejected at an astonishing rate of 92%.

March 23, 2022

The Times eventually determined the case file that had been copied concerned a complaint lodged against a high-profile Los Angeles attorney, Mark Geragos, and two other lawyers by a French businessman whose insurance claim in the Armenian genocide litigation had been rejected.

Further reporting made clear that the complaint was just one of a number made to the State Bar about the genocide settlements.

None of those complaints resulted in charges by the State Bar against Geragos. He cooperated with the agency and later testified as a witness at the trial of another lawyer connected to the litigation.


How was this story reported?

Reporters reviewed scores of court records in connection with cases brought against New York Life and AXA, among other corporations, over unpaid life insurance benefits. It was clear from the records that the AXA settlement had been plagued by problems and misconduct.

But because dozens of court filings in the AXA case were sealed by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder, it was nearly impossible to determine how the allegations of misconduct in the case were handled.


Last year, the newspaper retained counsel and petitioned Snyder to unseal those records. She ruled in The Times’ favor and the final tranche of records were released in February.

Estimates of the number of Armenians who perished vary widely, with historians offering a range of about 700,000 to 1.2 million.

March 23, 2022

While lawyers fought to unseal those records, reporters pored over court filings to identify those with knowledge of the Armenian genocide insurance cases and spoke to them by phone, email or in visits to their homes and offices. Many shared notes, memoranda and key documents that corroborated their accounts.

The Times also examined troves of records assembled by the French settlement board as well as by Vartkes Yeghiayan, one of the lead attorneys in the case. These records had been turned over to law enforcement and included emails among attorneys, transcripts of depositions, and correspondence with the State Bar and law enforcement agencies.

At Loyola Law School, reporters sifted through several of the thousands of applications for AXA settlement money that were stored in nearly 50 bankers boxes.