Sanctions Imposed on Tom Girardi’s Son-in-Law and Former Law Partner for Failing to Safeguard Clients’ Settlement Funds

Los Angeles, California – Two lawyers connected to Tom Girardi’s defunct law firm have been sanctioned by a State Bar judge for failing to adequately protect clients from Girardi’s misappropriation of settlement funds. The judge’s decision last week imposes restrictions on David Lira, Girardi’s son-in-law and former employee, and suspends the law license of Keith Griffin, another attorney who worked with Girardi for two decades.

Judge Phong Wang’s ruling prevents Lira from controlling bank accounts that hold client money and requires him to work under the supervision of another attorney until an upcoming trial. During the trial, bar prosecutors will seek Lira’s disbarment based on charges of moral turpitude, mishandling of settlement funds, and other related offenses. Griffin, on the other hand, is prohibited from practicing law for six months and will be on probation for a year.

The sanctions stem from the handling of settlement funds for Indonesian widows and orphans whose loved ones died in a Boeing plane crash. The judge found that Griffin had concealed information about settlement funds from the clients and Chicago-based attorneys assisting Girardi’s firm with the case. Girardi, a prominent figure in California politics and law, was disbarred last year and currently faces federal wire fraud charges related to the misappropriation of settlement funds.

Despite the sanctions, Lira will be allowed to continue practicing law while awaiting trial. Judge Wang noted that Lira received support from numerous character letters submitted by various individuals, emphasizing his lack of venality and justification for his actions. However, the judge clarified that there was no evidence that Lira himself was stealing money.

Evidence suggests that Girardi misappropriated millions of dollars from settlement funds meant for the Indonesian clients, leading to the collapse of his law firm. Lira quit the firm in 2020 after confronting Girardi about his actions and predicting his disbarment. Griffin, who remained at the firm until its collapse, pressed Girardi to pay the money but failed to inform the clients that Girardi had their funds and was withholding them.

State Bar prosecutors had initially sought the complete revocation of Griffin’s law license but were unsuccessful due to a lack of evidence showing his involvement in the theft of client funds. The judge concluded that Griffin wanted the clients to be paid fully and promptly, sparing him from complete disbarment.

Though the imposed sanctions have received some praise, skepticism remains regarding the effectiveness of the State Bar’s actions. Jay Edelson, a lawyer from a Chicago firm involved in the Boeing case, criticized the measures as insufficient, calling for the appointment of special counsel and expressing a lack of trust in the overall system. A lawyer for Griffin expressed gratitude for the judge’s decision but aired disagreements with certain findings.

The outcome of these cases raises questions about the legal profession’s oversight and the need for more stringent safeguards to protect clients from the misappropriation of funds. As the trial approaches, it remains to be seen how the legal community will respond and whether additional measures will be taken to restore confidence in the system.