Bloomberg Law
Nov. 4, 2022, 9:30 AM

Girardi Grievance Numbers Stoke California State Bar Critic Ire

Joyce E. Cutler
Joyce E. Cutler
Staff Correspondent

The California State Bar’s revelation that the agency for four decades failed to hold now-disbarred celebrity lawyer Thomas Girardi responsible for complaints about stealing from clients highlights its failures when it comes to high-profile and politically connected attorneys, critics said.

“What took so long?” said Carol M. Langford, an attorney who represents California lawyers in discipline cases and is an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law.

“Mr. Girardi knew how to wine, dine and gift the powers that be to ensure no one looked too closely at that horse’s mouth. We do know that about him,” Langford said Thursday. “My guess is there are others at the Bar responsible” who “should be held criminally responsible. They should be made to pay restitution to their victims, the same way they make lawyers who steal from clients pay back trust account monies.”

The bar received 136 complaints about Girardi between Aug. 10, 1982, and Dec. 17, 2020, when the Girardi Keese firm and the man were forced into bankruptcy, the agency said. Since the bankruptcy petition, the bar’s received 69 complaints. Nearly 60 of those recent complaints alleged client trust account violations, documents the bar released after settling a Los Angeles Times lawsuit said.

“It is clear that the State Bar would not have taken any action without the Times’ lawsuit, but even so, its disclosures are woefully inadequate,” said Kelli Sager, a Davis Wright Tremaine LLP attorney representing the newspaper.

“We appreciate the State Bar’s long overdue acknowledgment of the ‘serious failures’ in its disciplinary system concerning more than 200 complaints that were made about Tom Girardi, but these selective disclosures noticeably fail to include any specifics – including the identities of the individuals at the State Bar who were responsible for handling them – or details about the complaints themselves,” Sager said in an email.

Bar Board of Trustees Chairman Ruben Duran in an open letter said the “handling of the Girardi matters brought to light serious failures in the State Bar’s attorney discipline system, failures that have contributed to a lack of confidence in the State Bar’s ability to carry out our core responsibility of protecting the public.”

The California Supreme Court in June disbarred Girardi.

‘Egregious Failings’

The bar can expect heightened legislative scrutiny. Lawyers in California are overseen by the California Supreme Court, which licenses and admits attorneys, and by the California Legislature, which regulates under the state business and professions code.

The bar isn’t “at this time” planning to ask lawmakers for more funds to repay Girardi’s victims, bar spokesman Rick Coca said.

California Senate Judiciary Chairman Thomas Umberg (D) said the bar’s closing of 205 cases, 120 of which related to allegations involving Girardi client trust accounts, “further highlights the historic and egregious failings of the State Bar’s discipline system.”

While noting the agency’s “effort to be more transparent regarding the Girardi matter,” the lawmaker said, “it is imperative that the Bar focus on its core mission of public protection.”

But any request to increase the bar’s funding, which comes through the annual fee bill lawmakers approve, to address personnel or other stated deficiencies won’t fly, Umberg said in an interview with Bloomberg Law.

“I don’t think there’s an appetite in the legislature for increasing bar fees or in the profession for increasing bar fees until the bar addresses its first responsibility, which is protecting California consumers,” said Umberg, whose chamber will carry next year’s fee bill.

“The bar needs to rehabilitate itself in light of the Girardi controversy and we don’t know whether there are other Girardi-like situations. But it’s our duty to find out,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Maya Earls at; Andrew Harris at