Thomas Girardi is being blasted by one of his former clients.
As the estranged husband of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne faces numerous lawsuits, as well as a bankruptcy against both him and his firm, Girardi Keese, his “favorite” client is speaking out about her troubling experiences with the attorney.
On January 19, a new report detailed Kathy Ruigomez‘s long legal history with Thomas.
Following a September 2010 explosion of a natural gas pipeline, which killed eight people and left her 19-year-old son, Joe Ruigomez, burned and in a coma, Kathy enlisted Thomas to aid her in a lawsuit against the utility company responsible for the blast, Pacific Gas and Electric.
According to Kathy, she sought Thomas’ help because she knew of his successful $333 million lawsuit against the company, which inspired the film Erin Brockovich. However, despite Thomas’ reputation as a top attorney, Kathy quickly learned that his kind demeanor was all for show.
After Kathy and her family scored an eight-figure settlement against PG&E, Thomas held the funds in a trust account while continuing to visit with Joe, who eventually woke up from his coma.
“It’s kind of disturbing that he wanted to see [Joe] face to face when he was basically stealing his money,” Kathy said to Law360. “It’s kind of a little, you know — very unsettling.”
While Kathy did ask for an accounting of their family’s settlement funds on occasion, Thomas never provided her with a report. Instead, he talked her into investing the funds into a high-interest account, saying that he didn’t want Joe to be lured into a bad investment deal.
Finally, in 2019, the family demanded the settlement money in full and quickly learned that Thomas had no intention of paying up.
After failing to make contact with Thomas, Kathy and her family hired Abir Cohen Treyzon Salo LLP, where a number of former Girardi Keese attorneys now work, to go after the $12 million they were owed. Then, in January of last year, the attorney agreed to pay the $12 million but instead made just one payment of $1 million.
Months later, after missing the deadline to pay off the rest of his former clients’ settlement, Thomas was hit with an $11 million judgment.
Although a judgment is typically a good thing for those looking to get the money they are owed, Kathy, Joe, and their family have since learned that their money is gone, and they are currently at the mercy of the bankruptcy proceedings against him, which could stretch on for years to come.
Looking back on her experience with Thomas, Kathy said the attorney had told her that she and Joe were “his favorite clients.”
“And I can see why,” she said. “We just sort of sat to the side and let him just use all our money until it was gone. Like, yeah, I’m sure we were your favorite.”
Kathy did have the support of a longtime friend, Kimberly Archie, who went on to consult for Girardi Keese as a liability expert and case manager. Kimberly was able to help Kathy by using her connections at the firm to help figure out where the money went. Together, Kathy and Kimberly uncovered some troubling things, including lawsuits from Thomas’ lenders alleging he had defaulted on millions of dollars in loans.
In addition to allegedly stealing millions from the Ruigomez family, Thomas and his firm have also been accused of misappropriating funds from settlements belonging to other clients, including cancer patients, poisoned workers, earthquake survivors, and families of victims of a 2018 plane crash in Indonesia.
Just last month, after facing dozens of lawsuits from past clients in recent years, an attorney for Thomas’ firm admitted that he misappropriated $2 million from a settlement fund set up for the widows and orphans of those killed in the plane crash. Thomas had previously been sued for failing to pay his co-counsel, Edelson PC, their portion of their shared attorney’s fees, and for failing to pay those past clients in full.
Eventually, a judge found Thomas to be in contempt and referred his case to prosecutors.
Around the same time, numerous creditors forced Thomas and his firm, which had gone from 38 lawyers to just a few, into bankruptcy, and now, Thomas’ assets, as well as the assets of his firm, are headed toward liquidation.
As a couple of court-ordered trustees attempt to navigate through Thomas’ all-paper accounting system in hopes of paying his former clients the money they are owed, Law360 has shared details of the many other past and present cases against Thomas.
In one case, it was alleged that Thomas had paid former clients at least $4.3 million from settlements of other cases.
In a second case, it was noted that Thomas admitted to the Law Finance Group that he “totally, negligently violated the agreement” to pay the lender from settlement funds of another case.
“I truly did not appreciate the fact that I should have been distributing money to pay it off out of one case,” he wrote in a letter. “From the bottom of my heart, it was innocent.”
In one of his larger settlements, Thomas scored $785 million for former Lockheed workers who had been exposed to chemicals on the job. However, after the case was won, a man named Paul Kranich, who worked for Lockheed, claimed Thomas had stolen $8.5 million from a batch of settlements to pay off other clients.
A short time later, Paul’s case was thrown out due to time restrictions, just as many other cases brought against Thomas have been, including a case from victims of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, who accused the attorney of misappropriating $22 million of a $100 million settlement.
Thomas also faced a lawsuit from residents of Carson, California, who alleged he never paid them their $120 million settlement after their Carousel housing tract was found to have been built atop a toxic waste dump, which caused many of its residents to fall ill.
“This tract hates Tom Girardi,” former client Barbara Post said.
Barbara, who once acted as the president of the Carousel Homeowners Association and led the charge in suing Shell Oil Co. and Dole Food Co. over the illnesses of the residents, explained that while she was paid in full, the years of gaslighting she dealt with from Girardi Keese and the lawsuit she was forced to endure as a result of their failure to pay victims wasn’t worth the stress.
“I wish we’d never filed the lawsuit at all,” she said. “It’s one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me.”