Erika and Tom Girardi: Everything We Know About the Legal Controversies Facing the Former Couple
After the RHOBH star filed for divorce in November, the former couple have been embroiled in various lawsuits and controversies
Over the past few months, former power couple Erika and Tom Girardi have been slapped with multiple lawsuits, accusations of embezzlement, a bankruptcy case and claims of a sham divorce, among other legal woes.
The various controversies, which were first made public after the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star filed for divorce from her longtime husband last November, have become increasingly complex as the court cases progress.
Last month, Tom — a once-famed attorney known for his work on the case that inspired the Erin Brockovich movie — was placed under a permanent conservatorship after being diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. And thus far, what Erika knew about her husband's alleged illegal business dealings remains unclear.
Keep reading for everything we know about the situation.
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A Surprise Divorce
On Nov. 3, 2020, after 22 years of marriage, Erika, 49, filed for divorce from Tom, 82.
In a statement to PEOPLE at the time, Erika said, "After much consideration, I have decided to end my marriage to Tom Girardi. This is not a step taken lightly or easily. I have great love and respect for Tom and for our years and the lives we built together."
"It is my absolute wish to proceed through this process with respect and with the privacy that both Tom and I deserved," she continued. "I request others give us that privacy as well."
According to Erika's divorce filing, obtained by PEOPLE, the Bravo star asked that she be paid spousal support by Tom and also requested to terminate the court's ability to award spousal support to her ex. Tom responded by asking to terminate the court's ability to award spousal support to Erika. He also requested that she pay the attorney fees and costs.
RELATED VIDEO: Kyle Richards Says There Were 'Definitely a Lot of Breaking Points' Between Erika Jayne and Ex
During a recent episode of RHOBH, Erika addressed her divorce filing, saying during a confessional, "I left because he pushed me further and further out. The conversations that I used to have were now reduced down to a sentence or two. I just kept walking around that house and knowing that this marriage was headed down a really s----- path, I had to make a choice to do what was right for me. I couldn't live that way anymore."
Erika told her costars that she didn't tell them what was really going on in her marriage "on purpose," because it would have put them "in a bad position."
"I didn't want to do that, and that's the truth," she said. "It also doesn't serve me to talk a lot about what is happening legally or will happen legally, because I am married to somebody who's very good in that area."
In December, less than a month after the divorce filing, news broke that Erika and Tom were being sued for allegedly using their split to embezzle money.
Law firm Edelson PC filed the suit in an Illinois federal court on Dec. 3 on behalf of several families who lost loved ones in a 2018 Boeing plane crash. In the court documents, obtained by PEOPLE, the plaintiffs alleged that Tom and Erika embezzled settlement funds meant to help the families of victims on Lion Air Flight 610.
"Tom has resorted to embezzling the proceeds of settlements that should have been directed to his clients — including, as the basis for this Complaint, the widows and orphans who lost loved ones in the tragic crash of Lion Air Flight 610 — in order to continue funding his and Erika's lavish Beverly Hills lifestyles," the plaintiffs alleged.
Tom's law firm, Girardi Keese (GK), is also named in the suit, which claimed both Tom and the firm are "on the verge of financial collapse and locked in a downward spiral of mounting debts and dwindling funds."
The suit further claimed that the incident was not "the first attempt by Tom to hide and divert assets," and that the divorce is actually a tactic to protect their finances.
"While Erika publicly filed for divorce this month, on information and belief, that 'divorce' is simply a sham attempt to fraudulently protect Tom's and Erika's money from those that seek to collect on debts owed by Tom and his law firm GK," the suit stated.
Edelson PC and Erika declined to comment on the case at the time, and Tom did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Weeks later, on Dec. 14, Tom and Girardi Keese were held in civil contempt and had their assets frozen by the judge, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. The ruling reportedly came after Tom attended a Chicago court hearing via telephone and was unable to explain to the judge where at least $2 million went from the crash settlement of Lion Air Flight 610.
According to a lawyer from Tom's law firm, Tom was "unavailable in recent weeks due to a serious illness that caused him to be hospitalized for which he sought treatment."
A Second Lawsuit
On Dec. 15, Tom was hit with another lawsuit, this one from his law partner, Robert Keese, and several other former business partners.
In court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Keese, as well as Robert Finnerty and Jill O'Callahan, sued Tom to dissolve their business venture, known as 1126 Wilshire Partnership.
The plaintiffs alleged that Tom never paid them approximately $315,000 in income from the partnership and instead kept the money for himself. They further claimed that he took out loans against the property without their knowledge for his "own personal gain, benefit and use." Tom has not responded to the suit publicly or in court.
The lawsuit resulted in a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition that same month that is still ongoing, as a bankruptcy trustee investigates Tom and his law firm's assets.
In late June, news broke that Girardi Keese had gotten the go-ahead for a COVID-era loan from the federal government prior to filing for bankruptcy.
The law firm was approved for $1,503,000 through the Paycheck Protection Program — which was created to help keep businesses afloat during the pandemic — on April 15, 2020, according to public records.
It is unclear whether the firm actually received the loan. A spokesperson for Girardi Keese did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
Tom Placed Under a Conservatorship
In March, Tom's lawyers claimed that he had "had issues" with "mental competence" and it was later announced that he had been diagnosed with dementia and late-onset Alzheimer's disease.
He underwent a mental assessment on Feb. 26 as part of his younger brother Robert's petition to become his permanent conservator. Robert was granted a temporary conservatorship in February, which later became permanent.
Dr. Nathan Lavid, a Long Beach forensic and clinical psychiatrist, wrote a sworn declaration submitted to the Superior Court of California on March 10 stating that Tom was medically unfit to attend any court proceedings "for the foreseeable future," according to a capacity declaration previously obtained by PEOPLE.
"Dementia impairs his ability to understand the hearing," Lavid wrote. "His emotional distress is directly related to his dementia and exacerbated by his confusion."
During a June hearing, a judge ruled that Robert be appointed as the permanent conservator of Tom's "person and estate," leaving him responsible for deciding the appropriate care for Tom, as well as giving him control over his estate, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.
The judge also found that Tom "consents and does not object" to the conservatorship.
"I think that we should put together the reasons why the conservatorship should be dissolved, and then we'll address it, address the court," Tom continued. "Right now, I have nothing to say to the court."
"It's obviously a heartbreaking situation for Robert, but we agree with the court's rulings yesterday," Robert's lawyer, Nicholas Van Brunt, said in a statement to PEOPLE following the hearing.
Robert filed the official letters of conservatorship in court in July, making him the effective conservator over Tom's person and estate. Court records obtained by PEOPLE at the time cited Tom's dementia diagnosis, which is classified as a "major neurocognitive disorder," as the reason for the conservatorship.
Investigative Documentary Airs
In June, an ABC News Originals documentary, The Housewife and the Hustler, took an in-depth look at Tom and Erika's legal issues.
In the special, streaming on Hulu, various legal experts and those accusing Tom of embezzlement and questionable legal practices discussed the scandals surrounding the former couple. The Housewife and the Hustler also featured voicemail messages, court records and a never-before-aired deposition tape of Tom.
While the documentary highlighted several stories of individuals who claim they were wronged by Tom, one man, Joe Ruigomez, gave a detailed account of his experience working with the attorney — and how he believes Tom swindled him and his family of their settlement money.
Joe's family hired Tom after he was critically injured in the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010. "We thought he could win [the case for us]," said Joe's sister, Jamie, in the doc. "We didn't know how much of a snake he would be along the way."
After settling the lawsuit for the Ruigomez family in 2013, Tom allegedly suggested that he put the multi-million dollar settlement in one of his investments and dispense the money monthly. But after the family stopped receiving payments from the settlement, they became suspicious about where their money was. Joe said Tom became increasingly difficult to reach and failed to give straight answers when they asked about the money.
"He would be like, 'Oh, sorry about that. These things happen. I'll get it to you next week,'" Joe alleged. "And half the time the check would come when he'd say so — the second time — and half the time it wouldn't."
Joe claimed by 2017, the payments "disappeared completely," prompting the family to file a lawsuit in order to obtain the remaining funds. Tom allegedly agreed to pay them $12 million, signing a document saying he would make a $1 million initial payment, followed by a second payment of $2.5 million. "He never got to the second payment," Joe's mother, Kathy, claimed.
According to the documentary, the family took Tom back to court and is now "among the first in line to collect their settlement money from the bankruptcy" case.
Though Erika has not been charged with any crimes, one of the biggest questions posed in the documentary — and on the current season of RHOBH — is how much she knew when it came to Tom's legal woes.
"Tom and Erika, they're stuck together in these bankruptcy proceedings. A lot of these debts, that they owe in bankruptcy proceedings, [they] owe together, possibly," said Brandon Lowrey, a reporter at Law360, in The Housewife and the Hustler. "It's going to be hard for her to say she didn't know that anything was going on."
Andy Cohen, who executive produces the Real Housewives franchise, later weighed in on the documentary during his SiriusXM show Andy Cohen Live. "I don't think that documentary will affect her future on the show," Cohen told a caller in June.
"I will say the idea that Danielle Staub and Dana Wilkey are the experts in this documentary about Erika is questionable at best," Cohen said. "So I kind of realized I wasn't going to learn anything new from them about Erika."
As for the case itself? "The Tom Girardi stories continue to be deeply disturbing, and we have to see how this plays out," he said.
Issues from within Erika's Legal Team Arise
After the documentary dropped on Hulu, Erika's attorneys moved to stop representing her — only to backtrack and withdraw their motion later that same week.
According to a copy of the original motion obtained by PEOPLE, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP — the law firm representing Erika in Tom's Chapter 7 Bankruptcy case — filed paperwork to withdraw as her counsel on June 15. Erika was notified of their withdrawal on June 14, the same day The Housewife and the Hustler premiered.
"The relationship of trust and confidence that is essential to a properly functioning attorney-client relationship has broken down and, in the good faith assessment of counsel, the relationship is irreparable," the lawyers wrote.
The firm also said they had advised Erika to seek new representation and had warned her of "the potential consequences of not timely securing replacement counsel."
On June 17, however, they withdrew the motion and have since continued to represent her in the ongoing bankruptcy case.
Erika Is Accused of Refusing to Cooperate
In June, Erika was accused of refusing to cooperate in the bankruptcy case facing Tom and Girardi Keese.
The bankruptcy trustee's special litigation counsel, attorney Ronald Richards, reported that Girardi Keese transferred $20 million to Erika's various businesses, including one that Erika created after the news of the embezzlement scandal broke. In court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Richards expressed concern that Erika was attempting to hide the assets.
On June 23, the petitioning creditors in the bankruptcy case filed three separate motions that accused Erika of refusing to turn over bank statements and other documents to the bankruptcy trustee, according to copies of the motions obtained by PEOPLE.
Less than a week later, on June 28, the court ruled in favor of the creditors, ordering that Erika's accountant Michael Ullman, divorce lawyer Larry Ginsburg and landlord Benjamin Khakshour turn over various "key documents," including her pay stubs, bank statements and any emails and text messages pertaining to her finances.
Ginsburg, Khakshour and Ullman, along with his accounting firm, Ullman Accountancy Corp., must produce the requested documents later this month and are all set to appear in court for examination on various days during the week of July 19, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.
Lawyers for Erika did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment at the time.
RELATED VIDEO: Erika Girardi Accused of Refusing to Turn Over Bank Records, Using 'Glam' Lifestyle to Hide Assets
One of the original June 23 motions claimed Erika had "refused to provide access" to Ullman, her management company and the books and records of her various companies.
"As each day goes by, Erika has been publicly dissipating community assets by selling her clothes on public websites, flaunting large jewels on social media and on television, and has done nothing to assist in return structured firm payments being made to her instead of the firm by the California lottery, notwithstanding she was contacted through counsel over twelve days ago."
The motion went on to claim that Erika used her companies, including the newly created Pretty Mess Inc, to hide her assets, and had blocked access to Ullman while continuing to show off public displays of wealth.
"At every turn, Erika has used the glam to continue to aid and abet this sham transactions that have been occurring with respect to large transfers of assets from [Girardi Keese] to Erika," it said. "Moreover, the Trustee has received zero cooperation from Erika which is constant [sic] with someone hiding assets."
Citing concern that Erika will spend the funds transferred from Girardi Keese, the motion said various recent events — including Erika's attorneys filing to stop representing her — have heightened "the necessity to trace her money and investigate the receipt of funds, her purchases including the bling and the glam, (diamonds and high expenditures of beauty maintenance, etc.)."
Erika Fires Back
Two days later, Erika's legal team responded to the motion in their own court filing, asserting that she "has been and remains willing to cooperate fully with the Trustee's investigation in this bankruptcy of debtor Girardi & Keese."
In addition to responding to the claims that she has not been cooperative, the reality star requested that the court reconsider its decision to appoint Richards as the special counsel to the trustee in the bankruptcy case, accusing him of making "false and inflammatory" statements about her on social media.
It claimed that Richards has engaged in "vicious, conclusory, and speculative public vilification — all without evidence, which even if it existed, should and must be presented to and adjudicated by this Court."
In a statement to PEOPLE, Richards called the motion a "Hollywood attempt to create a smoke screen to slow down our work" and said his social media posts were protected by free speech.
"Had there been any restrictions by the Court on free speech, they would have been adhered to, as all court orders are by our office," his statement said, adding that the court previously rejected a gag order request from Erika's team and said during a recent hearing that he "has a right to express his views."
"We are representing the Trustee on a limited basis relating to Erika Jayne," Richards continued. "We only need to zealously pursue our client's litigation objectives which is to find the money and recover it. Attacking the Trustee's choice of counsel who is doing an effective job and working hard is a poorly designed strategy. The real issue is the large receivables to Erika Jayne and the money she is refusing to release or return, period."
Erika Faces Accusations of Conspiring with Tom and His Firm
On July 14, Erika was accused of hiding asset transfers and owing Girardi Keese $25 million as the bankruptcy trustee continued to investigate both Tom and the firm.
In a court document obtained by PEOPLE, the attorney for the bankruptcy trustee, Ronald Richards, claimed that Erika and two of her businesses, EJ Global, LLC and Pretty Mess, Inc., received jewelry and other luxury items purchased using funds belonging to Girardi Keese.
He also wrote that Erika received lottery payments that belong to the Girardi Keese estate in addition to the "luxury items," adding up to a total of $25 million. A lawyer for Erika did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment at the time.
Richards further claimed that "the defendants" (Erika and her businesses) and "the debtor" (Girardi Keese) "conspired to conceal" the funds to keep the money away from the creditors in the bankruptcy case, which include Tom's former business partners as well as some of his former clients.
"Erika has used her glamor and notoriety to continue to aid and abet in sham transactions that have occurred with respect to large transfers of assets from the Debtor," the document said, adding that Erika "refused to return" the lottery payments and luxury items, instead receiving or diverting them for her "own benefit."
Richards also asked for a judgement ordering that Erika and her businesses pay the amount owed to Girardi Keese. "The Defendants are under an obligation to pay the Plaintiff and the Estate all amounts by which the Defendants have been unjustly enriched in an amount according to proof," the document said.
Tom's Law Firm Auctions Off Belongings
In order to begin paying off the creditors in the ongoing bankruptcy case, items from the law offices of Girardi Keese will be sold sometime in August or September, per an auction page posted by Three Sixty Asset Advisors in July. The items include a Cadillac, vintage books, a piano, wine, art, oriental rugs, sports and music memorabilia and furniture.
A poster of Julia Roberts from the movie Erin Brockovich is also being auctioned off — a reference to Tom's famous case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in the 1990s which inspired the film.
A representative for Girardi Keese did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment at the time.
The embezzlement case, lawsuit from Tom's business partners and bankruptcy case are all currently ongoing, with no clear outcomes yet.
As for Erika, her feelings about her split from Tom and the resulting legal woes are playing out on the current season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which is set to run on Bravo through the summer.