Keystone Probate Lawyers Explain the Tom Girardi Conservatorship
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Why Is Tom Girardi’s Conservatorship So Controversial?
The latest news about Tom Girardi and his conservatorship have critics claiming that Girardi is faking cognitive impairment to protect himself from allegations that he was stealing millions of dollars from his own clients dating back at least to the 1996 case that made Girardi famous and became the basis for the Oscar-winning film “Erin Brockovich.”
The allegations that Girardi had been siphoning money from his clients, including family members of victims of the 2018 Lion Air plane crash, dragged Girardi and his firm Girardi Keese into bankruptcy. As a result, Girardi’s attorney claims his client’s assets are frozen. A bankruptcy trustee reported in court documents that Girardi’s personal estate has more than $57 million in liabilities.
Further muddying the waters, in November 2020, Erika Jayne, Girardi’s third wife and a co-star of the reality show “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” surprised friends and fans with the announcement that she was filing for divorce after 20 years of marriage.
In June, a California bankruptcy judge approved the appointment of a special investigator to look into Jayne’s finances to determine whether she has any assets that should be seized to repay Girardi’s growing number of alleged victims.
What Is a Conservatorship?
There are two basic types of conservators:
- A conservator of the estate is appointed to supervise the financial affairs of individuals who are found incapable of doing so themselves. For example, a conservator of the estate may pay bills, manage assets, and collect the conservatee’s income or public assistance benefits.
- A conservator of the person is appointed to supervise the personal affairs of individuals who are found by the court, even with appropriate assistance, to meet their most basic personal needs. For example, a conservator of the person is responsible for ensuring the conservatee has proper food, clothing, shelter, and health care. They may also need to make important medical decisions for the conservatee.
What’s the difference between a temporary conservatorship and a permanent conservatorship?
- A temporary (or emergency) conservatorship generally lasts 30 to 60 days. It grants a responsible adult the authority to exercise temporary control over a vulnerable person’s finances and/or health care decisions in order to protect the individual from potential harm to themselves or others.
- A permanent conservatorship provides for the conservator to control the conservatee’s person and/or estate (depending on the type of conservatorship) indefinitely. Permanent conservatorships are generally granted for conservatees with serious cognitive disabilities that are not expected to improve.
Does Tom Girardi Agree with the Conservatorship?
When asked by Judge Juarez at the hearing whether he disagreed with the request by his lawyer to make his temporary conservatorship permanent, Girardi appeared to stammer and mumble his response. “Obviously I have a disagreement with conservatorship altogether … do everything we can to dissolve it as soon as possible,” he said.
When asked to clarify whether he objected to making the temporary conservatorship permanent, Girardi told the judge, “Not at this time. I think that we should put together reasons why the conservatorship should be dissolved and then we’ll address the court, but right now I have nothing to say to the court.”
While the court does usually ask proposed conservatees capable of expressing their wishes how they feel about being placed under a conservatorship, theirs is not the only opinion the court considers. In addition to examining the conservatee’s medical history and other evidence, the court will generally hear testimony from the conservatee’s family members, friends and physicians before making a determination about whether to grant or deny the conservatorship. All this to say that a proposed conservatee does not have to agree with a conservatorship to be placed under one.
If a conservatorship is granted, and the conservatee disagrees with the court’s decision, there are steps they can take to try to have the conservatorship terminated. However, once a permanent conservatorship is granted, it can be very difficult to contest, as the court, by granting the conservatorship, essentially deemed that the conservatee lacks the competence to handle their personal and/or financial affairs on their own, which would make it challenging for them to hire a lawyer and take legal action.
Is Tom Girardi’s Conservatorship Warranted?
Based on the latest news about Tom Girardi’s conservatorship case—namely that Girardi has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and is suffering from short-term memory loss—the conservatorship does seem to be warranted. Persons with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are often placed under conservatorships, which serve to protect both their person and finances against harm.
The allegations that Girardi is faking his condition to avoid the consequences of his reported misconduct could ultimately be proven true, but currently, not enough facts about the case have been revealed to make a determination about the veracity of these claims. What we can be certain of is that the court does not hand out conservatorships liberally, as conservatorships relegate the rights of an adult to those of a child. The court will also review the conservatee’s medical records as well as hear testimony from their physicians before making its determination. That is to say that if Girardi’s medical condition has been fabricated, the cooperation of many people, including Girardi’s medical providers, would have been required.