A Los Angeles choose has ordered two former staff of the State Bar of California to reply questions beneath oath about Tom Girardi and his shut ties to the company that’s supposed to guard the general public from corrupt attorneys.
The State Bar can conduct depositions of the 2 former staff as a part of its inner investigation into whether or not insiders helped Girardi sidestep self-discipline and hold an unblemished legislation license whereas he misappropriated cash from his purchasers for years, L.A. Superior Court docket Choose Michael L. Stern dominated throughout a short listening to Wednesday.
“These are legitimate requests,” Stern mentioned of the State Bar’s efforts to query the 2 staff. “The depositions will go ahead within the month of December.”
After the listening to, the State Bar’s basic counsel, Ellin Davtyan, mentioned in an announcement that the company was “happy with Choose Stern’s ruling, which confirmed our place and paves the way in which to interview two key witnesses” within the inquiry over the mishandling of complaints towards Girardi.
The State Bar’s investigation is one among a number of ongoing inquiries into the Girardi scandal. A large-ranging federal felony investigation can be underway. Girardi’s former chief monetary officer was charged this month with wire fraud, which prosecutors describe as a “facet fraud” in a wider $100-million embezzlement involving others near the Girardi Keese legislation agency.
Girardi, 83, has been recognized with Alzheimer’s illness and is in a court-supervised conservatorship.
The State Bar has not recognized the 2 former staff it’s looking for to query, however its attorneys confirmed in court docket filings that they’re Tom Layton, a former L.A. County sheriff’s deputy who later turned a distinguished investigator on the State Bar; and Sonja Oehler, the onetime govt assistant to Joe Dunn, the previous chief govt of the State Bar who was fired in 2014.
Layton had an in depth friendship with Girardi throughout the years when the lawyer was the topic of scores of ethics complaints. He accepted free authorized work, journey and meals from Girardi, and one among his youngsters labored on the lawyer’s Wilshire Boulevard agency, The Instances has beforehand reported.
Girardi and the investigator have been ceaselessly seen collectively at Girardi’s legislation workplace, political fundraisers, civic occasions, the Jonathan Membership and upscale steakhouses resembling Morton’s and the Palm. Layton additionally had shut ties with federal and native legislation enforcement and cultivated relationships with judges throughout California. Many considered him as a surrogate to Girardi.
Oehler and Layton have been terminated shortly after Dunn. Each filed lawsuits towards the State Bar, ultimately reaching settlements in 2019. Oehler acquired $150,000, whereas Layton was paid $400,000.
These settlement agreements have grow to be central in Layton and Oehler’s efforts to keep away from offering info to the State Bar about Girardi.
Final summer time, the State Bar issued subpoenas to each Layton and Oehler, however each flouted the requests — pointing to the phrases of the settlement agreements.
The pair share a authorized crew. Considered one of their attorneys, Derrick Lowe, argued Wednesday that the agreements “without end” blocked “the State Bar from imposing any claims, calls for or obligations … together with the deposition obligations at situation in the present day.”
Robert Baker, a veteran litigator who can be representing Layton and Oehler, urged in court docket that the State Bar was abusing its authority by going after two former staff.
“They’re saying that we’ve got this energy of subpoena and …. we’re simply going to disregard the contract that we entered into,” Baker mentioned, later including: “This entire factor is a sham to attempt to produce proof to allow them to besmirch and degrade former staff of the State Bar.”
However a high lawyer for the State Bar, Brady Dewar, countered that the settlement agreements had nothing to do with the subpoena to reply questions on Girardi.
“The duty to reply questions arose in 2022, and it’s not restricted by this launch settlement,” Dewar mentioned. He famous that the State Bar had already questioned 15 different witnesses within the inner investigation, none of whom raised objections.
It’s unclear how a lot info the company will glean out of the depositions.
Baker at one level urged that the State Bar may solely ask his purchasers a couple of slim window of time — 2019, the yr they settled their lawsuits, and after.
Aaron Might, the surface counsel who’s main the State Bar’s investigation into Girardi, countered, “We completely plan to inquire about issues previous to 2019.”