Thomas Girardi, of Girardi & Keese, and Walter Lack, of Engstrom Lipscomb & Lack, are among California’s highest-profile plaintiff’s lawyers, often working closely together on litigation; perhaps their best-known case was the “Erin Brockovich” action against Pacific Gas & Electric, which I covered here and again here (highlight: the chartered Mediterranean cruise to which Girardi and Lack invited the three arbitrators soon after winning their split of $133 million in fees). Now both men are in a spot of bother with the Ninth Circuit, where a special master, senior circuit judge A. Wallace Tashima, has recommended hundreds of thousands of dollars in sanctions against them and where a three-judge panel (Kozinski, Reinhardt, Berzon) has just moved to appoint a special prosecutor to recommend further discipline in the case.
The imbroglio arose from a pesticide toxic tort which resulted in a Nicaraguan court’s $489 million judgment against defendants including Shell Oil, Dow Chemical and Dole Food, which plaintiffs had sought to enforce in this country. Amid mounting evidence that many of the various American and Nicaraguan lawyers involved had not been entirely (as they say) candid with the tribunal on a variety of points, the court has been trying to sort out who knew what when. “In his 65-page report, Tashima said Lack had a personal role in asserting repeatedly that a writ of execution made by the Nicaraguan judge to enforce the judgment in America was corrected to name Dole Food Co. and Shell Chemical Co. Girardi, meanwhile, allegedly allowed the misstatements to continue on his behalf without becoming directly involved.” (Evan Hill, “9th Circuit Taps Special Prosecutor for Toxic-Tort Case”, The Recorder, Jun. 10; latest order and March special master’s report from Judge Tashima, both PDF, via California Appellate Report). We understand that changes to California ethics rules have put a crimp in Girardi and Lack’s former practice of throwing luxurious events for judges, but even aside from that, we don’t think judges Tashima, Kozinski, Reinhardt and Berzon would probably have been making any plans to attend.
Aides to candidates Clinton and Obama feverishly work an AAJ/ATLA trial lawyers’ conclave down Puerto Rico way, sensing that the money behind the flagging John Edwards candidacy may be “looking for a new candidate to get behind”. It’s “a testament to the crucial role played by the legal profession in Democratic fundraising. Trial lawyers have proved to be the financial mainstay for Edwards’s two presidential bids, as well as for the Democratic Party in general.” Quotes longtime Overlawyered favorites Fred Baron, Thomas Girardi and Robert Montgomery (Matthew Mosk, “Top Candidates’ Teams Look to the Lawyers”, Washington Post, Jan. 28).
Our editor, Walter Olson, has covered this territory before, but it’s worth revisiting as Kerry and Edwards make their way across key states in their bus caravan campaign. The report on the men behind John Edwards at EdwardsWatch makes for interesting reading.:
According to published reports, Edwards received $4.65 million from 3,220 lawyers, 29 paralegals, 17 legal assistants and 555 people with the same address as a personal injury attorney contributor (such as a spouse or close relative). The $4.65 million represents 63% of the total money raised by Edwards. Over one-third of those contributors gave the maximum $2,000..
His biggest contributors include patron, friend, campaign finance director, and asbestos-litigator extraordinaire Fred Baron, Silicon Valley litigator William Lerach (see also this), and the mysterious Stephen Bing.
He also has close ties to the law firms Girardi and Keese and Chitwood and Harley. And that’s just the tip of the special interest iceberg.
Other tidbits from the EdwardsWatch site include the discount air travel Edwards gets from his trial lawyer friends and the money he’s gotten from every state trial lawyers association in the country. Has there ever been a candidate so beholden to one special interest?
More: See also details at Rantburg and Edwards’ PAC donors from OpenSecrets.org.
“The latest settlement in litigation over California’s energy crisis includes tens of millions of dollars in attorney fees to be shared by a handful of politically savvy plaintiffs’ firms. … Besides Lieff Cabraser, private firms that will collect a share of the fees include Kiesel, Boucher & Larson of Beverly Hills, Calif., and Girardi & Keese; Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack; and O’Donnell & Shaeffer, all of Los Angeles. ” (Jeff Chorney, “Powerful Payday”, The Recorder, Jul. 8).