State Bar asks judge to force ex-employees to testify about Girardi

The State Bar of California is taking two former employees to court to force them to disclose their knowledge of alleged corruption at the agency that allowed Tom Girardi to evade discipline for decades.

In two filings filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in recent days, attorneys for the State Bar wrote that the former employees believed they had “information relevant to the investigation” but had resisted subpoenas issued in July, who instructed them to testify under oath.

In seeking a warrant to force them to submit to questioning, prosecutors did not identify the former employees. Instead, the attorneys only identified each as a “confidential witness” in what attorneys at the agency said, in an attempt to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.

Investigation-related interviews and correspondence reviewed by The Times indicate that one of the former associates is Tom Layton, a once-prominent prosecution investigator who had a close friendship with Girardi while the attorney was the subject of numerous ethics complaints.

As The Times has previously detailed, Layton accepted free legal work, travel and meals from Girardi, and one of his children worked at the Wilshire Boulevard law firm. Girardi and the investigator were frequently spotted together at Girardi’s law office, political fundraisers, civic events, the Jonathan Club, and upscale steakhouses such as Morton’s and The Palm.

Layton did not return messages asking for comment.

Both former employees are represented by Robert Baker, a veteran LA litigator who has known Girardi for decades and has defended him in numerous court cases brought by disgruntled clients and colleagues over the years.

Baker declined to name his clients but said both previously sued prosecutors.

Layton sued the agency for wrongful termination in 2016 after questions surfaced about his connection to Girardi, and won a $400,000 settlement. When asked if any of the unidentified witnesses were Layton, Baker said, “I’m not going to get into that.”

Baker told The Times that both former employees have reached settlement agreements that release them from any further “claims, debts, liabilities, demands” from prosecutors. The terms of the settlement, he said, “absolve the plaintiffs of all claims of any kind” – suggesting they cannot be compelled to release documents or answer questions about the Girardi investigation.

Baker called the prosecution’s investigation, which is being conducted by an outside law firm, Halpern May Ybarra Gelberg LLP, “a fraud.”

Exterior view of the State Bar of California offices in downtown Los Angeles.

Exterior view of the State Bar of California offices in downtown Los Angeles.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“In my opinion there is no reason to conduct an investigation into the former prosecutor’s office after Mr. Girardi has already been fired,” Baker said in a brief telephone interview. “What shoud that? They spend money on legal fees – what do they intend to do besides blaming former employees for an alleged transgression by Mr Girardi and the prosecution?”

Evidence of corruption at his vaunted company Girardi Keese and elsewhere has surfaced following Girardi’s stunning downfall. A trustee overseeing the law firm’s bankruptcy estimates that Girardi stole $14 million from clients in the decade before his firm collapsed. In one notable example, Girardi transferred $300,000 from a client escrow account to a sitting appellate judge with whom he had a year-long extramarital affair.

The Times has also reported on how Girardi maintained close ties with prosecutors as well as private judges who played key roles in administering the settlements from which he is now accused of embezzling funds.

The Bar Association announced the investigation into the outside firm in January, saying its purpose was to “identify acts by individuals with ties to the state Bar Association that may constitute misconduct in the handling of disciplinary complaints against Girardi.”

At the time, Ruben Duran, the chairman of the board of directors of the bar association, proclaimed: “Heed our words: we will go where the evidence leads us.”

In the period that followed, little became public about the progress or scope of the investigation.

A hearing on the prosecutor’s motions is scheduled for October 28.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-30/state-bar-asks-judge-to-force-ex-employees-to-testify-about-girardis-sway-in-the-agency State Bar asks judge to force ex-employees to testify about Girardi

Alley Einstein

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