How the Indonesian Lion Air Crash Brought Down a US Legal Empire

How the Indonesian lion plane crash brought down an American legal empire

In this Oct. 31, 2018 file photo, family members of the passengers of a crashed Lion Air plane review personal belongings recovered from the waters where the plane is believed to have crashed, at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Credit: AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana, File

When famed Beverly Hills lawyer Tom Girardi was accused of defrauding clients for a staggering $15 million in February, marked a spectacular fall from grace for one of the most sought-after legal minds in the business.

Girardi, 83, made a name for himself as a fearsome Los Angeles-based personal injury lawyer who won multi-million dollar settlements for his clients and once served as part of the team representing Hinkley, California residents in their case. against Pacific. Gas & Electric – a case immortalized in the 2000 film “Erin Brokovich”.

However, the alleged legal eagle fraud, which is believed to have spanned decades, might never have been discovered had it not been for an incident that took place more than 14,000 kilometers away in Indonesia.

On October 29, 2018, a Lion Air plane crashed into the Java Sea shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, killing all 189 passengers and crew on board. The plane was a new 737 Max that had been purchased by Indonesian low-cost carrier Lion Air from US planemaker Boeing.

After the crash, it was discovered that the plane’s flight maneuvering system, known as MCAS, had failed, prompting the families of the victims to sue the plane’s manufacturer, then based in Chicago. Five plaintiffs in the case retained Girardi as their legal representative in the United States, and the law firm, Girardi & Keese, in turn, sought local legal counsel in Chicago, winning a multi-million dollar settlement in early 2020. .

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However, the money never came.

Instead, the clients alleged they were misled by excuses from Girardi & Keese as to why the settlement money, which had been sent to the firm’s client trust account, had not yet reached them.

drafts of some of the lyrics supposedly written by Girardi makes it difficult to read.

“We made an agreement with Boeing that all cases would be resolved. They gave us special authorization to distribute 50%. I feel pretty sure that the balance will be made within 30 days. A tax issue also arose that I am trying to resolve”, says one of them.

“I figured out enough of the problem that we were able to release 50% of the deal. I feel pretty good about the next payment. There are tax issues, etc. I am working very hard,” says another.

In late 2020, the Chicago-based firm that had represented the victims on Girardi’s behalf, Edelson PC, horrified that the funds had not been transferred to the clients in full, filed a lawsuit against him and paid the families the settlement money. of his own account.

In an opinion memo on the case, Chicago-based Judge Thomas Durkin was scathing in his assessment of the situation, calling Girardi’s actions “a stain on the legal profession.” He continued,

All of the plaintiffs in this case were citizens and residents of another country, many of whom do not speak English and have little or no experience with American society and certainly not with its judicial system. Most are not very well off. All suffered the tragic loss of family members. In need of help, they relied on American lawyers to guide them through the legal process and achieve at least some relief for their losses with amounts of money that are likely to change life in their country. Girardi took advantage of vulnerable people at his most vulnerable times, and used the prestige of his profession, the reputation of US courts, and the approval of this Court to do so. It is almost impossible to repair such a breach of trust.

Of the $18 million he is now accused of embezzling from his clients, Girardi is accused of taking some $3 million from the widows and orphans of the victims of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, charges he pleaded innocent in february

He has also filed for bankruptcy, claimed he has Alzheimer’s, and entered a conservatorship in which his brother is legally responsible for him. He, too, was disbarred in 2022 and banned from practicing law by the California State Bar Association. Prosecutors in the case are currently discussing whether Girardi is mentally fit to stand trial, arguing in a recent court filing that his “apparently rapid neurocognitive decline, as well as the timing of it, are unusual and require further examination.”

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However, whatever the case may be, Girardi’s downfall and alleged decades of duplicity will always owe something to Indonesia and the 189 souls aboard Lion Air flight JT 610.

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