Tom Girardi’s epic corruption exposes the secretive world of private judges

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Tom Girardi’s settlement with a pharmaceutical company in 2005 was particularly large and righteous: Some $66 million was won by the famed Los Angeles trial attorney on behalf of patients who said the diabetes drug caused liver failure and other malformations.

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On Girardi’s suggestion, a nationally renowned arbitrator was appointed to ensure the fair distribution of wealth. To oversee the settlement, retired California Appellate Justice John K. Trotter Jr. and his private justice firm, JayAIIMS (formerly known as Judicial Arbitration and Arbitration Services), received a deduction of $500,000.

Yet in the years that followed, Girardi diverted the money Trotter was hired to keep safe for purposes that were highly questionable and even, in a recent assessment by a federal judge, “a crime.” Girardi sent $750,000 to a jeweler, which bankruptcy court records show was the purchase of a massive pair of diamond earrings for his wife, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Erica Girardi. According to records, he used to repeatedly dip into the settlement account for the expenses of the alleged case, sometimes writing multiple seven-digit checks to his law firm in a single week.

(Irrfan Khan /)

Ultimately, according to a check registry filed in court, he took in more than $15 million—about 22% of the settlement—for what he described as a “cost.” Legal experts told The Times that the pattern of withdrawals indicates fraud.

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Girardi’s firm collapsed a year and a half ago amid evidence that one of California’s most respected attorneys had stolen from clients for decades—the largest legal scandal in the state’s history.

A Times investigation on recently released internal firm records found that his unethical behavior relied on private judges, who occupy a secret corner of the legal world. Girardi’s reliance on them raises questions about whether there are adequate safeguards in place to protect the public from predatory lawyers in this highly secretive and largely unregulated industry.

Retired judges, including Trotter, played a major role in the administration of the larger settlements, from which Girardi is accused of stealing money. Many worked for Irvine-based JAMS, the world’s largest private company Arbitration and Arbitration Company.

Judge John K.  Trotter Jr.
(daily Journal)

According to court records, Girardi paid private judges at JAMS and elsewhere up to $1,500 an hour to work on mass torture settlements that often involved hundreds or thousands of clients and tens of millions of dollars. When pressured about the lack of funding, he often invoked the impressive credentials of jurists. Willingness of former judges to stand in court with Girardi , and sometimes indulge in their lavish junkets and boozy parties , Enhanced his aura of invincibility.

In some instances examined by The Times, it is unclear whether the retired judges were aware that Girardi was using them as a shield to evade scrutiny, such as a 2018 letter in which he spoke to clients on Trotter’s heart problems. Alleged delay in making payment. But in others, there is evidence that the retired judge was aware of the misconduct allegations and assisted them anyway.

In 2001, a former judge helped Girardi unfairly extort $3.5 million by signing a settlement “order” for workers at Lockheed Corporation (which later became Lockheed Martin Corp.). Documents and correspondence from a bank executive filed in court.


In 2014, a retired state Supreme Court judge pulled cancer survivors into JAMS in an effort to mislead cancer survivors about more than $1 million missing from their disposal. Girardi’s firm, Girardi Keese, told clients that the former judge had instructed the firm to “hold back” the money. The claim was false, but the jurist did not inform clients or the lower court and fought a subpoena for months before finally being forced to testify under oath. That’s when he revealed that Girardi was lying.

Despite the wide power of private judges in the legal system, no government agency specifically monitors their conduct or oversees policies. Retired jurists often agree to follow its provisions: judicial code of conduct while serving as referee, special master or similar position, but they do not fall within commission on judicial performanceThe state agency that investigates the conduct of active judges said an agency lawyer.

“His [legal] The skills were phenomenal. The bad thing was that he didn’t do the money properly.”

—Danny Barnes, a Girardi client who began working at Lockheed as a teenager and developed cancer at age 27

Some retired jurists who worked with Girardi have died. No one still alive who The Times contacted agreed to be interviewed. Trotter, 88, continues to make an impact. Until recently, he was the sole trustee overseeing a $13.5 billion trust for thousands of victims of wildfires in Paradise and other Northern California communities.

In a written response to questions about his relationship with Girardi, Trotter said, “I believe that I have performed the tasks assigned to me in an appropriate and timely manner.” In a second statement, he said he “doesn’t know when, how or why”. [Girardi] morphed from a clearly competent, ethical advocate into what he is today.”

“The problem is not mass torture or private judgment, it is Mr. Girardi,” he wrote.

Girdhari is not in a position to respond. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year and is in court-ordered guardianship under the care of his younger brother. His court-appointed attorney, Rudy Cosio, declined to comment.

Once settled in a sprawling Pasadena mansion, 83-year-old Girardi now lives in a Burbank nursing home, relying on the family for financial support. In a court filing, his brother, Robert, wrote that Girardi takes medication for dementia and that his “care needs are such that he needs to be in a skilled nursing facility.”


The state Supreme Court stripped Girardi of his law license in June and he and his firm are the subject of ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

The Lockheed trial cemented Girardi’s reputation as an attorney willing to take on large corporations.

In the early 1990s, he represented hundreds of Lockheed employees who claimed they had been poisoned at the aerospace giant’s Burbank plant. The lawsuit was complicated with workers’ groups suing Lockheed and several chemical companies for more than a decade. Lawsuit records show that Girardi earned more than $128 million from the companies.

Former Lockheed worker Danny Barnes poses at his home in Los Angeles, CA.
Former Lockheed worker Danny Barnes at his home in Los Angeles. Barnes says Girardi stole money from him and other Lockheed employees in a series of suits in the 1990s that resulted in a settlement of at least $120 million.
(Jason / Armand)

“His [legal] The skills were phenomenal,” said Danny Barnes, a client of Girardi’s, who began working at Lockheed as a teenager and developed cancer at age 27. “The bad part was that they didn’t do the money right.”

Although the law firm was called Girardi Keys, it was owned and controlled by Girardi alone. He brought on retired judges affiliated with JAMS, with the task of allocating funds appropriately among Lockheed employees. To avoid perceived ethical conflicts, it is common for plaintiffs’ attorneys to hire outsiders to decide how much one-time settlement each client should receive.

One retired judge who worked at Lockheed was the late Jack Tanner, who spent 10 years on the LA Superior Court Bench and was widely praised for his civil rights activism. Tanner, who was white, worked to integrate Firehouse and end discriminatory real estate practices. When black friends, including future LA Mayor Tom Bradley and baseball legend Frank Robinson, wanted to buy homes in white neighborhoods with racist covenants, Tanner posed as the buyer and transferred ownership after the sale.

He was close to Girardi, serving in his second marriage in 1993, and was one of three JAMS judges, including Trotter, who helped mediate Girardi’s most famous case: the $333 million settlement he won in 1996 for the Mojave. Desert was won for the city’s residents. Hinkley. That case inspired the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

Following the legal victory, which awarded at least $120 million to the lawyers involved, Girardi and an aide organized a celebratory Mediterranean cruise and invited Tanner, Trotter and other current and former judges. As The Times then reported, most jurists eventually Girardi, but questions remained about the appropriateness of the trip.


By the time of Cruise, Tenor had worked with Girardik. Lockheed’s cases lasted nearly five years, according to court records, and clients and fellow attorneys were becoming increasingly upset over the lack of transparency and the speed of payments. Interview.

As in many cases Girardi handled, his Lockheed clients were of modest means and education, and as time went on, many became ill with cancer.

Mildred Davis sits on the front porch of her home she shared with her husband, Willie Davis
Mildred Davis shares the home with her husband, Willie Davis, who died of cancer in 2014 after working for decades at Lockheed.
(Gina Farazzi /)

Mildred Davis holds a picture of Willie.
(Gina Farazzi /)

“People were a foot in the grave and a foot out there trying to get something,” recalled Mildred Davis, whose husband Willie was diagnosed with cancer after a career at Lockheed. He suspected that Girardi saw his clients as easy points who, in their desperation, would accept far less than they owed them. That said, Girardi would argue, “If I give them $50,000 or $25,000, they’ll be fine, because they’ve never had that kind of money.”

“It bothers my husband that [Girardi] He thought he was so dumb, stupid, that he would shut up and sit down,” she recalled. She said her husband collected some money, but didn’t believe it was due. He passed away in 2014 Gone.

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