It was a rough day in courts, plural, for “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Erika Jayne on Tuesday.
In Chicago, a federal judge warned her not to sell or spend assets she shares with her estranged husband, troubled legal giant Tom Girardi. In Los Angeles, an appellate justice Jayne blasted online for allegedly having an affair with her husband accused her of criminal conduct for posting the jurist’s intimate text messages, photos and phone number.
A lawyer for Justice Tricia A. Bigelow, the presiding judge of the state’s Second District Court of Appeal, told The Times that Jayne’s “actions in maliciously doxxing the Justice were nothing short of criminal.”
“We are considering our options to protect Justice Bigelow from further harassment,” said lawyer Alan Jackson, who noted that the judge was deluged with nasty text messages and calls after her phone number was published on Instagram.
Representatives for the “Housewives” star did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The events Tuesday were the latest developments in the implosion of Girardi’s storied legal career and the life he built around it for himself and Jayne, his third wife. Best known for the case that inspired “Erin Brockovich,” Girardi, 81, made a fortune suing big corporations, and he spent freely on a lavish lifestyle that included private planes, blowout parties and, for 49-year-old Jayne, a middle-aged attempt at a singing career.
Now, however, he appears to be broke, and the couple are divorcing. Creditors and former clients say Girardi owes them tens of millions of dollars, according to lawsuits filed against him and his firm, Girardi Keese.
Among those clamoring for payment are widows and orphans of five passengers killed in a 2018 plane crash in Indonesia. Girardi did not pass on more than $2 million that plane manufacturer Boeing had transferred to his law firm as part of the settlement of their lawsuits.
After learning recently of the missing funds, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin last week called Girardi’s conduct “unconscionable,” alerted federal prosecutors, and froze the lawyer’s assets and those of his Wilshire Boulevard firm.
Informed subsequently that Jayne was hawking second-hand designer clothes through a French online consignment site, the judge summoned her lawyer to appear at Tuesday’s hearing.
“There is currently pending an asset freeze as to Tom Girardi and his assets, and if she is selling assets that are the property of Tom Girardi, either in whole or in part, you need to inform her of the danger that puts her in,” Durkin told Jayne’s lawyer, Matt Wasserman.
The attorney questioned whether Jayne, who had no role in the plane crash litigation, was subject to the Illinois proceedings, but said, “I understand the court’s comments and will take them to my client.”
When Girardi and his wife married in 2000, they did not obtain a prenuptial agreement, and the division of their community property is likely to be a central part of the divorce case.
What assets remain is unclear. He testified this fall that his cash holdings of up to $80 million as well as a stock portfolio once valued at $50 million were “all gone.”
Last week, a contingent of creditors went to court in an attempt to force Girardi and his law firm into bankruptcy. Among the debtors listed in the bankruptcy petition was Robert Keese, the attorney whose surname was part of Girardi’s law firm branding, and Kimberly Archie, who worked as a legal consultant at the firm. Separately, the court reporting company Veritext filed a suit last week demanding nearly $550,000 in unpaid bills.
Girardi has not spoken publicly about the mounting claims against him, nor was he present for Tuesday’s hearing. His lawyers have suggested to the judge that he has “mental competency” problems that prevent him from explaining what happened to his money or offering them guidance on how to defend him.
“I’m also unable to effectively communicate with my client regarding these issues,” his defense attorney Evan Jenness told the judge Tuesday.
The downfall of Girardi and its fallout for Jayne has united the typically staid legal world and legions of reality TV fans in rapt fascination. Both circles were set atwitter Friday night when Jayne alleged on Instagram that Girardi had an affair with Justice Bigelow and that he had paid for the judge’s plastic surgery and shopping sprees.
Jayne published a collage of screenshots of years-old text messages that also included Bigelow’s phone number as well as a photo of the justice posing on a bed. She later deleted the post.
Jackson, the attorney for Bigelow, said the justice had been “in a committed relationship with her husband for more than four years.”
“She was personal friends with Tom Girardi for many years before her marriage, and at one brief point that friendship grew into a dating relationship. That relationship ended long before she met her husband,” Jackson said in a statement.
He said the justice recused herself from cases involving Girardi or lawyers from his firm, adding, “At no time has Justice Bigelow violated any canon of judicial ethics. Indeed, she takes great pride in her decades-long record of integrity, impartiality and independence on the bench.”
The judge in Chicago indicated he plans to scrutinize whether other lawyers in Girardi’s firm should have done more to ensure the Indonesian widows and orphans received their settlements. Girardi was the sole owner of the firm and controlled its finances, according to affidavits submitted by former employees.
Two former Girardi Keese lawyers claimed in court papers this week that they had warned their boss for months about his handling of client money. David Lira, who is married to Girardi’s daughter, repeatedly urged his father-in-law to pass on settlement money from Boeing to the Indonesian clients, according to a filing by his lawyer.
“Similar exchanges with increasing intensity followed with the final confrontation on the day Mr. Lira resigned and left the firm,” attorney Edith Matthai wrote, adding that the Girardi and Lira have not spoken since June 13, when Lira walked out of the firm.
The downtown law practice he joined as a named partner, Johnston Hutchinson & Lira, announced Tuesday that Lira had resigned “after careful consideration.”
Another attorney, Keith Griffin, one of the last to leave Girardi Keese before it effectively shut down operations this month, also said in court documents that he had told Girardi again and again to pay the Indonesians. In a November memo submitted to the court, he pleaded with Girardi to transfer the money and noted that the clients were prepared to go to the state bar and the district attorney’s office.
“This could not be more serious,” he wrote. Girardi did not send the money.