Tom Girardi appears in court after being charged with fraud
For once, Tom Girardi remained silent in court.
The disgraced legal legend didn’t say a word Monday afternoon during a first appearance in federal court in Los Angeles on wire fraud charges that prosecutors say were part of a long-running scheme aimed at defrauding customers.
Girardi, 83, sat face to face as an investigative judge, a prosecutor and two public defenders appointed to represent him discussed the mental health of the once powerful lawyer, who was diagnosed two years ago with Alzheimer’s disease.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Stevenson said she had reviewed documents submitted under seal by Girardi’s lawyers regarding his medical condition and concluded that there was “reasonable cause to believe that the defendant might be suffering from illness or mental defect” which would render him unable to understand the proceedings or assist his attorneys.
Stevenson pleaded not guilty on behalf of Girardi to the five counts of wire fraud, which cover more than $15 million allegedly stolen from client settlement funds. She ordered the prosecutor and Girardi’s attorneys to initiate a competency proceeding that will include an evaluation by an independent medical expert.
The prosecution agreed to the tests, along with assistant US Atty. Scott Paetty said: ‘The government has no objection and understands that jurisdiction will be an issue in this case.
In the meantime, Girardi will remain free. Stevenson said Girardi could continue in his current accommodation — the memory care unit of an Orange County nursing home — without electronic monitoring such as an anklet.
“There will be no guard here,” Stevenson said.
Girardi’s younger brother Robert, who was named his curator two years ago, attended the hearing and agreed to sign an affidavit promising his brother’s appearance in the proceedings, subject to a $250,000 fine. .
Asked by the judge if he understood the responsibility he was shouldering, Robert Girardi, a dentist from Seal Beach, replied: “Fully aware, yes, your honor.”
The judge prohibited Girardi from selling or transferring assets valued at more than $5,000 without notifying the court.
What strengths Girardi still has remains unknown. He was forced into bankruptcy, with his residences sold and his possessions auctioned off to pay creditors.
Defendants are normally required to surrender their passports. Supervising Deputy Public Defender Craig Harbaugh said Girardi — who once traveled on a private plane with his wife, ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ star Erika — can’t find his passport.
“If he’s picked up, he’ll be handed over,” Harbaugh said.
For decades, Girardi walked the halls of Los Angeles courthouses in neat suits with silk ties and matching pocket squares, but on Monday afternoon he walked into the courtroom in a sweater wrinkled plum and baggy pants. As the judge ran through the conditions he had to meet while awaiting further proceedings, Girardi absently stroked a tuft of his white hair.
He faces a second arraignment next month in Chicago, where a grand jury indicted him, his son-in-law, attorney David Lira and his former chief financial officer, Chris Kamon, on multiple counts of wire fraud resulting from $3 million misappropriated from a settlement with Indonesian widows and orphans.
In the Chicago case, Girardi is scheduled to appear remotely on March 3 to answer the charges, while Lira is scheduled to appear remotely Friday for arraignment. Kamon has been in federal custody since November after prosecutors accused him of leading an alleged ‘parallel fraud’ at Girardi’s law firm and accused him of embezzling millions to fund a lavish lifestyle .
Los Angeles Times