June 9, 2008

Ninth Circuit Appoints Special Prosecutor to Pursue Disciplinary Action Against Tommy Girardi and Walter Lack

Prominent plaintiffs' lawyers Tommy Girardi and Walter Lack have been successful in obtaining some eye-popping punitive damages awards in California. For example, in the Lockheed Litigation cases in the late 1990's, Girardi won a jury verdict for $760 million in punitive damages. The award was later vacated on appeal, but it helped solidify Girardi's reputation as a hugely successful trial lawyer.

Now it seems that Girardi and Lack themselves are in need of a good advocate. As we noted in a prior post, the Ninth Circuit appointed Judge Wallace Tashima to investigate whether Girardi, Lack, and others should be sanctioned or disbarred (the Ninth Circuit's order actually used that term) for their involvement in pursuing a frivolous case against Dole Food Company and Shell Chemical Company.

In March, Judge Tashima issued a scathing report, recommending that the Ninth Circuit impose sanctions of $250,000 against Lack and his firm, $125,000 against Girardi and his firm, $10,000 against Paul A. Traina, and $5,000 against Sean A. Topp. Judge Tashima also recommended disciplinary actions against the lawyers involved, but that part of the order was filed under seal.

The Ninth Circuit has now issued this order (certified for publication), which explains that the lawyers involved did not object to Judge Tashima's recommended monetary sanctions, but they objected to Judge Tashima's disciplinary recommendations. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit has decided to appoint an independent prosecutor to present evidence against the attorneys involved and make a recommendation regarding disciplinary sanctions. The monetary sanctions will be held in abeyance until the disciplinary issues are resolved.

This story has been largely ignored by the media, despite the fact that it involves some very high profile attorneys. Girardi hosts his own radio show and is a current member of the California Judicial Council.