Thursday, August 4, 2022

"Tom Girardi’s epic corruption exposes the secretive world of private judges"

Long, detailed article by the LA Times:

A Times investigation drawing on newly released internal firm records found that his unethical practice depended on private judges, who occupy a secretive corner of the legal world. Girardi’s reliance on them raises questions about whether there are enough safeguards in this highly confidential and largely unregulated industry to protect the public from predatory attorneys.

Retired judges ... played prominent roles in administering large settlements from which Girardi is accused of stealing money. Several worked for Irvine-based JAMS, the world’s largest private mediation and arbitration company.

Girardi paid private judges at JAMS and elsewhere up to $1,500 an hour to work on mass tort settlements that often involved hundreds or thousands of clients and tens of millions of dollars, according to court records. When pressed about missing funds, he often invoked the jurists’ impressive credentials. The willingness of the former judges to stand by Girardi in court — and sometimes join him at his lavish junkets and boozy parties — enhanced his aura of invincibility.


In some instances examined by The Times, it is not clear that the retired judges knew Girardi was using them as a shield to fend off scrutiny . . . . But in others, there is evidence the retired judges were aware of misconduct allegations and assisted him anyway.


In the years that followed, [one former judge] helped transform JAMS into a national and, eventually, international powerhouse with a pivotal role in the judicial system. The company ... now employs more than 400 arbitrators in 29 locations, and many important legal disputes, particularly those involving corporations, play out not in public courtrooms but behind closed doors at JAMS. (The Times has used JAMS to resolve disputes.)