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As competency hearing ends, caretaker says Tom Girardi cried at TV report of his client fraud
The disbarred lawyer cursed at an assistant U.S. attorney cross-examining a defense expert who says he's incompetent to stand trial on his federal wire fraud indictment.
Disbarred lawyer Tom Girardi’s mental competency hearing ended Wednesday in Los Angeles with testimony from five people who’ve personally interacted with him, including a supervisor at his assisted living center who confirmed he was once seen crying while watching a TV news report about his downfall.
Margarita Munoz was the last witness in the three-day hearing to determine if the 84-year-old former mass torts king pin is competent for trial on his federal indictment accusing him of a massive fraud that bilked his clients out of more than $15 million.
Munoz said she and her co-workers know to change the channel if a report about Girardi begins to air after seeing his tearful reaction to the news report.
She said in a follow up question from Girardi’s lawyer that she doesn’t remember if Girardi continued to cry after staff changed the channel. Her overall testimony, though, is that he’s not faking his mental condition.
Prosecutors argue he is, and they have detailed reports from two experts who cite, among other things, his ability to track conversations and recall interactions such as repeatedly reminding one that he’s not a criminal defense lawyer.
Girardi’s current relationship with his third wife, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne, was mentioned several times during the hearing before U.S. District Judge Josephine L. Staton, who is to decide if the former mass torts kingpin will face trial or be declared incompetent and his case put on hold.
Jayne left Girardi in November 2020, shortly before his law firm collapsed, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Ali Moghaddas said in court on Wednesday that the two remain in “near daily” contact.
Moghaddas played a recent clip from the “Two Ts in a Pod” podcast in which Erika said Girardi “called me this morning to ask me how my show was,” referring to her Las Vegas concert series.
Diana Goldstein, a Chicago neuropsychologist, testified on Aug. 23 that Girardi answered a call from Erika as she was meeting with him for the assessment. She said she heard Erika answer yes when Girardi asked if she was going to Spain, and she later confirmed the trip occurred by watching an episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Girardi also said he didn’t recognize a photo of Erika, but the photo was when “she wasn’t wearing any make up and this was pre-plastic surgery,” Goldstein said.
Girardi was a longtime plaintiff’s trial lawyer whose legal work is depicted in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich. He was in court each day of the hearing after Staton rejected his lawyers’ request that he be allowed to stay home. He had no outbursts until Wednesday, when he said, “F--k you” to Moghaddas as he cross-examined defense expert Stacey Wood, a neurology professor at Scripps College who testified that she’s assessed the mentally competency of 30 to 40 criminal defendants and believes Girardi is not competent.
“I want the record to make clear that the defendant just said ‘F--k you’ to me,” Moghaddas said from the lectern.
Moghaddas incorporated the profanity into his cross by asking Wood what the comment shows about Girardi’s ability to follow the proceedings.
“It’s certainly rude and inappropriate. You deserve our respect,” Wood told Moghaddas. “It also speaks to poor courtroom behavior.”
Judge Staton is not expected to make a decision on Girardi’s competency until possibly early next year. She said Wednesday she wants written briefs now that testimony is complete. Girardi’s opening brief won’t be due until a month after the transcripts are ready, which could be two weeks.
“I think this is important, so you tell me how much time is needed,” the judge told the attorneys. Prosecutors will have three weeks to file their opposition to the opening brief, then Girardi’s lawyers will have two weeks to reply.
Judge Staton said she’s heard enough testimony, but if she decides she wants to hear more, “I can always reopen.”
“That’s the beauty of being a federal judge, right?” Staton said.
Here’s Girardi leaving the courthouse on Tuesday:
Wood was the final expert witness in an expert-dominated hearing. Her testimony began Tuesday after testimony from Helena Chui, a University of Southern California neurology professor who testified that Girardi is not competent to stand trial.
Goldstein and the prosecution’s other expert, Vanderbilt University neurology professor Ryan Darby, believe Girardi has a mild “cognitive impairment” but is exaggerating his condition and is in fact competent to stand trial. Both testified on Aug. 23.
In his cross-examination of Wood on Wednesday, Moghaddas played a voicemail Girardi left for Jay Edelson, the Chicago lawyer who reported to a federal judge in December 2020 that Girardi had apparently stolen money from clients in lawsuits over the 2018 crash of the Lion Air Flight 610 in the Java Sea.
Girardi’s lawyer at the time, Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Evan Jenness, told U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin in December 2020 that Girardi was mentally declining and couldn’t understand what was happening. But 10 days earlier, Girardi told Edelson in the voicemail, “I think there’s been some miscommunication here” and that no money was to be distributed to clients until all of it had been received from the lawsuit settlements. “Don’t be mean to me. I’m a nice guy,” Girardi said, adding that he didn’t want “problems.”
Girardi told Edelson in another voicemail, “Let’s work everything out in a nice way, please.”
Moghaddas asked Wood if Girardi’s words were inconsistent with Jenness’ claim that he din’t understand what was happening.
“It does seem to be,” Wood said.
Moghaddas ended with a series of questions meant to highlight the huge motive Girardi has to feign his condition and avoid trial.
“You’d agree with me, ma’am, that this is the most important case of Tom Girardi’s life?” Moghaddas asked.
“I would imagine so,” Wood answered.
Along with the California indictment, Girardi faces charges in the Northern District of Illinois for the alleged fraud. His former chief financial officer, Christopher Kamon, also is charged in Illinois, as is former law partner David R. Lira, who is Girardi’s son-in-law.
Kamon was arrested in December 2022 after he returned to the United States from the Bahamas. Along with the Illinois charges, he’s charged in the Los Angeles-based Central District of California with stealing money from Girardi’s firm in a separate scheme that prosecutors say Girardi didn’t know about.
In interviews with experts, Girardi blamed Kamon for his law firm’s downfall and the millions in missing client money. But prosecutors pointed out that he said he believes Kamon is in the Bahamas, and the Bahamas was never mentioned publicly in relation to Kamon until 2022, long after Girardi’s lawyers say his Alzheimer’s and dementia set in.
Wednesday’s witnesses included Isabel Mancilla, Girardi’s housekeeper of 22 years; friend and former travel agent Amber Ringler; trial services professional Rick Kraemer and lawyer Richard Marmaro, a retired partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
Marmaro has known Girardi for 20 years through the Los Angeles legal community and their memberships at the Wilshire Country Club, where they regularly golfed together. Girardi also sponsored Marmaro’s membership in the American Board of Trial Advocates.
Marmaro testified that he saw Girardi at the Los Angeles federal courthouse in March 2020. Marmaro was there to see his son, an assistant U.S. attorney, in trial, and he said the courthouse officers asked him as he was going through security if he knew who Girardi was.
“This man is one of the most well-known plaintiff lawyers in the country,” Marmaro remembered saying. Girardi called him “pal,” which Marmaro said isn’t unusual. He thought he recognized him, but he wasn’t sure. He said it “startled him” that Girardi believed he was at the state courthouse, because he wouldn’t be one to confuse the two buildings.
Marmaro told Dr. Goldstein he believed Girardi had a cognitive impairment but that he wouldn’t “bet my kids’ lives on it.” He recalled on the witness stand Girardi forgetting about a golf trip to New York at the last minute. He also testified about Girardi visiting his home in summer 2020 looking disheveled and “not the sharply dressed person that I knew.”
Asked about Girardi’s truthfulness, Marmaro said, “I couldn’t form an opinion now based on his character for truthfulness.” Asked whether he believes Girardi is malingering, Marmaro “That requires me to crawl in his mind.”
Ringler, Girardi’s travel coordinator, said Wednesday was the first time she’d seen Girardi “since I dropped him off at Belmont,” referring to his first assisted living center. She said she has no doubt he’s not faking his mental decline, and she testified to seeing problems as early as 2015. Ringler and Jayne grew to be close friends, and Ringler often socialized with both Jayne and Girardi. She described Girardi on Wednesday as “larger than life.”
“Everyone loved Tom. He would walk in the room and become everyone’s best friend,” Ringler said.
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Ringler said she “heard in the news” that Erika had left Girardi in November 2020, so she went to stay at their Pasadena mansion to help him. She recalled how he awoke one night screaming, upset that he couldn’t hear, and he ended up having hearing aids in his ears. When they were removed, “he could hear,” Ringler said.
In cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Paetty, Ringler said Girardi is “one of my best friends if not my best friend” and denied having a romantic relationship with him. She said she didn’t know that Girardi said they did, but she said it didn’t surprise her.
In re-direct, Deputy Federal Defender Craig Harbaugh asked Ringler, “Are you exaggerating his decline to help him out?”
“Absolutely not,” Ringler answered.
Mancilla, who began as Girardi’s housekeeper in 1998, testified that Girardi appeared to decline mentally after his was in a car accident in 2017, wearing the same socks for three days.
Mancilla referred to Girardi as “Mr. Tom” in her testimony when recalling her interactions with him, and she recalled hiding his car keys to prevent him from driving and how he’d soil his clothes and continue to wear them. (Prosecutors noted that Girardi was suffering from hemorrhoids when this happened so the excrement was from that and not cognitive decline.)
Kraemer, whose company Executive Presentations assists lawyers with trial visuals, testified that he met Girardi in the 1990s and remembers his appearance and mental state declining in the 2010s. His brief testimony included pointed cross-exam from Moghaddas, who asked Kraemer if he’d told Dr. Goldstein that Kamon was to blame for the embezzlements and he didn’t believe Girardi was culpable. Kraemer acknowledged blaming Kamon but denied saying anything about Girardi.
Moghaddas pointed out that Kraemer never contacted the State Bar of California with his concerns about Girardi’s mental condition, even though he knew he was managing a law firm, but Kraemer said, “I had no knowledge that client money was being misappropriated.”
According to my friends at the Los Angeles Times, Girardi’s ‘F--k you’ to Moghaddas wasn’t his only courtroom profanity on Wednesday.
From Harriet Ryan’s and Matt Hamilton’s article:
When Girardi saw Ringler seated on a bench as he returned to the courtroom after lunch, he became excited and tried to engage her in conversation.
One of his defense attorneys, Deputy Federal Public Defender Alejandro Barrientos, intervened, guiding him toward the courtroom. Girardi responded by calling his lawyer a profanity, saying, “You think I’ve never been in court before.”
Go to the CourtListener file for more free documents in this case.
On another note, I enjoyed watching Richard Marmaro testify after watching him defend a CEO in an insider trading case in two trials at the Orange County federal courthouse in 2017 and 2018. I profiled him for the Daily Journal in December 2018, and there’s a an hour-long recorded interview that goes along with it:
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