A judge’s affair with Tom Girardi, a beachfront condo and a $300,000 wire from his firm

An ocean front condominium building in Santa Monica.
An oceanfront condominium building in Santa Monica where then-Justice Tricia Bigelow bought a unit in 2015. Tom Girardi was having an extramarital affair with Bigelow and he wired her $300,000 from a client trust account at the time she closed on the property.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Tricia Bigelow, then a presiding justice of a state appeals court in downtown Los Angeles, wanted a weekend place at the beach.

She found an ocean-front condominium in a prime area of Santa Monica in 2015 and embarked on a luxurious makeover later described in a rental listing: custom kitchen cabinets, high-end appliances, a built-in wine fridge, a soaking tub and furnishings in an elegant nautical theme.

To pay the substantial price tag, she did not have to rely on her judicial salary alone. Tom Girardi, the powerful attorney with whom she was having an affair, wired her $300,000 in the week she closed on the Ocean Avenue property, according to financial records filed in a state court lawsuit.


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The wire did not come from Girardi’s personal bank account, but rather from a trust account containing settlement money for clients of his Wilshire Boulevard law firm, Girardi Keese. At the time of the transfer to Bigelow, the account held funds owed to cancer victims and other residents of a polluted Inland Empire community, who had sued cement manufacturers in Riverside Superior Court in 2008, according to the state court records.

To this day, many of the victims have not received their full settlements, according to bankruptcy claims from dozens of former clients and their relatives.

“We never got a dime,” said Michelle Ganz, a claimant in the bankruptcy case whose mother, Sandi, lived near one of the cement plants and died of lung cancer. “We did everything they said we needed to, and they just never paid out.”

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Bigelow retired last year from the Second District Court of Appeal. In response to questions from The Times, her attorney Alan Jackson wrote in an email that the $300,000 transfer “was NOT marked as coming from a [Girardi Keese] trust account” and that she had no reason to suspect he was drawing on client funds.

From L-R, Tom Girardi, Erika Girardi, Tricia Bigelow.

Girardi, once one of California’s most well-connected and prominent attorneys, misappropriated millions of dollars of client funds over a period of decades, according to a State Bar review and bankruptcy filings. The money appears to have helped underwrite the opulent lifestyle he and his wife, Erika, displayed on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and the lavish parties and dinners he hosted for the legal community.


The wire transfer to Bigelow reveals he also used client money at least once during their four-year extramarital romance. The jurist had a $212,274 salary and a reputation so sterling that at one point she was tapped to oversee the education of all new state judges.

Jackson, Bigelow’s lawyer, said in emails that Girardi “never shared anything with her regarding the source of any gifts.” Earlier this month, after receiving an inquiry from The Times, the justice returned what she said were all the presents she ever received from the disgraced lawyer.

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Jackson handed the gifts over to a bankruptcy trustee working to compensate cheated clients and other Girardi creditors. But he has declined to identify the gifts publicly or place a dollar value on them.

Tom and Erika Girardi on "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

Girardi, 83, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is under a court-ordered conservatorship. The trustee for the bankruptcy of Girardi Keese, Elissa Miller, did not respond to a request for comment. In a court filing Tuesday, she disclosed that “a former ‘friend’” of Girardi recently turned over jewelry with an estimated value of less than $15,000.

The items included 1.75-carat diamond earrings, a Bulgari pearl and diamond necklace, a Cartier gold and diamond necklace and a Tiffany heart-shaped gold and diamond necklace that the trustee and Bigelow believed the law firm purchased, according to the trustee’s court filing.


The date of the return coincides with the timeframe in which Bigelow’s lawyer gave Miller, the trustee, the items. Miller asked the bankruptcy court for permission to auction off the jewelry.

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She had previously told the bankruptcy judge that she plans to investigate “numerous transfers” of firm assets to “third parties,” and has secured a court order to sell the $750,000 diamond stud earrings apparently purchased with client money for Girardi’s now-estranged wife.

Shortly after the firm’s 2020 collapse, Erika Girardi began pointing a finger of blame at Bigelow, posting now-deleted screenshots on Instagram suggesting her husband had paid for shopping sprees and cosmetic surgery for the justice.

But the $300,000 gift appears to have taken even the reality TV star by surprise, according to a partial transcript of her deposition filed in court. Erika Girardi was shown bank records of the transfer to Bigelow while giving sworn testimony Aug. 4 in a lawsuit brought by attorneys who say they were swindled out of fees in the Inland Empire cement pollution case.

“F– me,” she exclaimed, prompting her attorney to warn her against using profanities. Asked whether her husband had ever mentioned the transfer to her, she replied, “No way. No way.”

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Erika Girardi urged one of the lawyers questioning her to put Bigelow under oath as well, saying, “I’m very upset that you haven’t noticed her depo.” The attorney, Ronald Richards, replied during the deposition that he was gathering evidence about Bigelow now that she was no longer on the bench.


“I wasn’t going to do it when she was a justice. I’m not suicidal,” Richards said, according to the deposition transcript.

Richards said in an interview Tuesday that after Bigelow returned the gifts this month, he called off his investigation: “It became a total non-issue.”

Tom Girardi on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

Bigelow and Girardi began their affair in 2012, according to her lawyer. At the time, Girardi had been married to his wife for a dozen years and Bigelow was engaged to a retired L.A. City Fire captain.

Though the justice had previously handled cases involving Girardi’s firm, she started recusing herself from matters concerning him or lawyers who worked for him as their friendship grew close and then became romantic, according to her attorney and a conflict of interest list she provided the appellate court clerk.

State officials, including judges, are generally barred from receiving gifts that exceed $500 and are required to annually disclose smaller gifts publicly. But there is an exception for people in a “dating relationship,” according to state ethics guidelines. Bigelow did not report the jewelry or the money from Girardi, according to a review of her financial disclosures.


In the spring of 2015, Bigelow was on the hunt for a seaside property. Earlier that year, some $20 million had been deposited in the Girardi Keese trust account at Torrey Pines Bank on behalf of thousands of clients in the Inland Empire cement cases, court records show.

Though attorneys are required to “promptly” distribute settlement funds to clients, Girardi did not. Records show Girardi Keese moved millions of dollars into the firm’s operating account and “to pay off older debts of the firm,” according to a filing by attorneys trying to recoup their share of the cement case settlement. By November 2015, with only a fraction of the clients receiving any money at all, there was just $411,000 left in the trust account.

In the intervening period, Bigelow made a successful offer of $715,000 for a top-floor, one-bedroom condominium at the corner of Montana and Ocean avenues in Santa Monica. On the day she signed her mortgage documents in June 2015, she received the $300,000 wire from Girardi Keese’s trust account at Torrey Pines Bank, according to property records filed in L.A. County and bank records filed in court.

The condominium complex has a pool and a roof deck and is steps from the beach. Her fiancé at the time, Terrance Manning, said in an interview that Bigelow presented the apartment as a getaway for the two of them.

“She had talked about [how] we’d still live in La Cañada and we could go down there on weekends,” Manning recalled. “It really never worked out, nor did our relationship.”

He later learned she was having an affair with Girardi, who he knew only as a close friend of hers. He said he never noticed expensive gifts and did not inquire about the source of the money she used for the down payment.


“She had been a career lady, and I figured she had that income,” said Manning, who noted he is now “very happily married” to someone else.

The relationship between Bigelow and Girardi ended in September 2016, according to her attorney, and she married another lawyer two years later.

From 2015 onward, the clients from the Inland Empire case kept pressing Girardi for their money – with minimal result.

“Everybody was waiting. There was always some excuse,” said Wiley Shepherd, 74, who attributes his colon and rectal cancer to toxic exposure from nearby cement plants.

He received about $20,000 from the settlement in 2018, but questioned the years it took for payment and the small amount relative to what he endured.

“That money did not belong to the attorneys,” Shepherd said. “That money belonged to the victims.”


Bigelow, according to her lawyer, had “a long record of always being a staunch advocate of victims of crime and she’s focused on doing her part to make sure at least in this case the victims are made whole.”