my lunch dates with famous lawyer guy tom girardi
I picked up the phone call. The man on the other end authoritatively said, “I’m looking for Justin Kloczko. And I don’t want to talk to any subordinates.” lol.
It was Beverly Hills househusband Tom Girardi, the legend of the Southern California bar, and he was inviting me to lunch! I said, absolutely. After we hung up, I asked one of my co-workers at the newspaper I just started working for, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, who Tom Girardi was.
“The Erin Brockovich guy.”
“He’s married to a Real housewife of Beverly Hills.”
Girardi was God-like in the legal community. Number one, back-to-back champion over the past 50 years, or whatever. He made a lot of money. His estimated net worth at one point was around $250 million. He sued on behalf of the little guy and bodied-up against the biggest corporations, like aerospace arms manufacturer Lockheed Corp., utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric Co., and Dole and Shell, sort of. That’s pretty awesome. A picture of his face hung in our editor’s office. I heard rumors he could get the governor on the phone whenever he wanted, that he owned many judges in LA, and that he wielded lots of influence getting them appointed. There were also rumblings that he was running out of money, but who cares. Someone once said LA is a hole that you fall into.
His secretary called to confirm the lunch and gave the big location reveal: Morton’s Steakhouse on S. Figueroa, Tom’s go-to. What to wear? What to talk about? He didn’t have a Tinder profile or a LinkedIn that I could mine for clues. I guess we’d just talk businesses. How’s the shop runnin’ Tom? Why are you so awesome? Please, ya gotta help me man! I took the subway like an obedient member of the precariat. Tom had a driver, but he was late. Or maybe I was a little early. I’m always waiting for something.
The restaurant was empty except for the maître d', who was expecting me.
I declared loudly: “Hiii-iii. I’m here to have lunch with Tom Girardi.” I was now inside the Red Room.
Maître d' person gestured to the opulent dining area to which Tom regularly lorded over, and escorted me to his table. It was similar to Outback Steakhouse, but more serious. An amazing china collection. An unnecessary amount of forks, plates and glasses. It was hard to focus on the spread before me.
Soon Tom materialized. He looked adorable, like a soft baby turtle. A round face poking out of an oversized suit that he was swimming inside. I wasn’t shaved, wearing my usual work uniform, a white, probably wrinkled Oxford.
I got up and shook Tom’s hand. He slumped into his throne with boomer swagger. He said hi to the staffers at Morton’s Steakhouse. You know Tom knew everyone.
“Back there I threw a fundraiser for Joe Biden,” he told me, not looking in the general direction he was pointing to.
“Okay, very cool,” I said, peeking over my shoulder.
Tom claimed to have written a line in one of Bill Clinton’s speeches. He claimed his wife, someone named Erika Jayne, was a pop star. Did something on broadway too, I dunno. He probably thought I knew who she was. A big fan of her reality television show, the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Man it’s arrogant to assume people know things.
It seemed like after every sip of wine I took, someone quickly appeared to top off my glass.
“How do you feel about consent?” Tom asked me.
Then he got a little sad.
“Sometimes I feel like asking my chauffeur to drive me to Oklahoma just so I could kill myself.”
No, wait. He didn’t say any of that, jk. I was just very hungry and preoccupied with my meal. I think I ordered the ‘warm steak salad’ ($26). Imagine a warm salad. Tom was rich but ate macaroni and cheese every day and only because the waiter lied to him and told him an attractive female across the dining room sent it over. Normal shit.
Well caffeinated, but still half asleep, Tom received a phone call to his 2007 Tom Girardi flip phone, ominously dictated orders to the person on the other side, and hung up. It happened a couple times during the lunch.
I tried to ask him about Southern California Gas Company, which was just beginning to get hit with a ton of lawsuits over the huge Aliso Canyon gas leak. Tom was one of the firms suing the utility. He didn’t really tell me anything though. Had nothing to say. He just wanted to display for me his cool little life.
“Well,” I said, clapping my hands together. “Should I let you go?”
Then Tom invited me to a consumer lawyers event at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I sat back, thought deeply for a moment, and decided: yes, I will go on another date with Tom.
The event, put on by the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA), was giving an award to personal injury attorney Brian Panish. I confidently valet’d my decade-old Volkswagen Passat alongside Teslas and high-end sports cars. I was set to join Tom’s table inside the hotel’s gaudy crystal ballroom, but first I had to swim past a judge who only wore panama hats and a coalition of lawyers dressed as cowboys. It’s an actual thing called the Cowboy Lawyers Association. I went up to one of the members, who I thought would remember me, but the attorney just looked at me like I had asked him to mainline heroin, and walked away. No one remembers who you are in Los Angeles.
I arrived at Tom’s table, catching the end of a conversation, “but Mitt Romney is a good guy!” Exchanging head nods with the others present, our attention was quickly diverted by the presentation before us. Cedric the Entertainer was the night’s MC.
Then Tom arrived! We exchanged pleasantries and I told him he didn’t miss much. There was some light socializing before everyone sat down. Tom looked across the room and saw Daniel Buckley, who was the assistant presiding judge of Los Angeles County Superior Court. What happened next was amazing. He pointed at the judge, wagged his finger “come here,” and the judge ran up to Girardi like a groupie. I was introduced to him, and a few weeks later we had lunch. Tom hooked it up.
Sitting down, Tom immediately went for the event program, furiously flipping through it. It totally consumed him.
I leaned in. “What ya lookin’ for?”
“My name. I don’t see my name in the program!”
“Damn, that’s rude,” I said, trying to meet his dissatisfaction.
Tom was upset, but no worries. He was set to give a roast on stage. A televised one. One by one, other attorneys took to the podium to lightly roast the attorney. The audience reaction sounded like a laughing track. Only the sound of forks and knives scratching precious china remained. It made me want to have a nervous breakdown but I had no time to schedule one.
Then came the moment Tom was waiting for: watching himself being watched by the legal ruling class. He loved it. There Tom was, telling jokes on the big screen that I’ve forgotten. And the second Tom’s video roast ended, he turned to me, said his ride was coming to get him, and excused himself for the night. He came to someone else’s event to see himself and then bounced before dessert came. Tom left me with some of his associates but it soon became clear we had nothing to talk about, so I left too.
That was five years ago. Today Tom is accused of embezzling from clients! Almost $2 million from the families of people killed in a Boeing crash in order to maintain his complicated lifestyle. His law firm Girardi Keese suddenly collapsed this winter while facing a raft of lawsuits, and now Tom’s lawyer says Tom has dementia. Plus Erika Jayne divorced him. : (
Anyway, a federal judge in Chicago did what a judge in Los Angeles wouldn’t do: he froze the assets of Girardi’s firm. The LA Times’ Matt Hamilton and Harriet Ryan have done some good reporting on all this. Tom’s probably not a millionaire these days. Maybe a thousandaire or a hundredaire. I heard that after Tom read my LADWP corruption stories, he laughed and said something to the effect of, “I do that stuff all the time!”
Some time after our lunches, word got back to me from someone else that Tom didn’t like me. Oh well. But at least I got some feedback on my dates, unlike the poor customer service on dating apps. At least he didn’t ghost me. I’m sorry Tom. I’m a double Pisces. Apparently we’re drawn to weak people. <3
Then maybe a year later, my phone rang. It was Tom! He invited me to his big CAALA bash in Las Vegas!
“And I wanted to let you know that the rock band Styx will be performing,” Tom informed me. He was proud.
“Gee Tom, are you sure I deserve this?” I replied in my head.
The CAALA event and Tom’s party took place at the Wynn, a very expensive hotel with $100 nightclub covers. The previous night I ended up at a Chainsmokers “concert.” But I heard Tom’s parties were a blast. Lots of judges went, attorneys who wanted their cases scooped up by big-time lawyers. People who wanted to be seen. I wore my best suit, and a tie that used to belong to an old Hollywood actor gifted to me by his granddaughter. I shaved. I tried dabbling in optimism. Tom hadn’t forgotten about me.
I ate a steak as big as a regulation-sized softball and drank from a river of gin and tonics. I made new friends. I watched Styx perform. I looked around, still no Tom in sight. I really wanted to thank him for dinner. It was okay that he asked me zero questions during our dates.
Toward the end of the night, a television appeared. The room became quiet. Tom’s face emerged, not looking creepy at all. He thanked everyone for coming and apologized that he couldn’t be there in person. People clapped, and I waved, “Bye Tom.”
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