Retired justice returns ex-boyfriend Tom Girardi’s gifts

A retired California appellate judge who had a four-year affair with Tom Girardi has returned many of the now-disgraced lawyer’s gifts to a bankruptcy trustee, an attorney for the former judge has said.

Tricia A. Bigelow, who resigned last year as a presiding judge of a Los Angeles appeals court division, handed over the gifts this week after The Times demanded an explanation of the checks she Girardi had written to him in 2017, including one for $5,000 from his law firm bank account.

A lawyer for Bigelow said her romance with Girardi was then over and she could find no record of cashing that check or a check for $10,000 on an account Girardi shared with his wife, Erika, star of “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” But the investigation apparently prompted Bigelow to hand over other gifts to the trustee overseeing former law firm Girardi Keese.

“Judge Bigelow wants nothing, even potentially related to the money Girardi took from his client-victims,” his attorney, Alan Jackson, told The Times in an interview Thursday.

Hundreds of former Girardi clients claim the legendary lawyer stole tens of millions of dollars from their settlements and hope to get their money back through bankruptcy proceedings. Bigelow’s attorney declined to identify the total value of the returned gifts or describe them.

He said that in the case, which began in 2012 and ended in September 2016, the court considered Girardi to be “a successful lawyer” and had no reason to suspect that it was possible that the gifts come from misappropriated funds from customers.

“She is horrified and appalled to have been the unknowing recipient of tainted gifts,” Jackson said, adding that she “had disgorged every gift she was aware of in the past two days.”

The court-appointed trustee who he says received the gifts, Elissa Miller, worked for more than a year and a half to collect all of the remaining assets with the aim of eventually compensating former clients and other creditors. Miller declined to comment. Girardi, 83, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year and is under court-ordered guardianship in which a younger brother controls his affairs.

The scrutiny so far has focused on his ex-wife, Erika Girardi, 51, who filed for divorce at the end of 2020 after two decades of marriage. Her free spending was a guideline of her recording career and appearances on “Housewives.” At the request of the trustee, a judge this summer ordered that a $750,000 pair of diamond earrings the reality TV star received as a gift from her husband be sold, with the proceeds intended to pay deceived customers.

A lawyer for Erika Girardi said Bigelow’s return of the gifts – and the terms on which they were accepted – should be on a public record.

“I would like to see a public record of what Judge Bigelow says she received and what she gave back to the trustee,” Evan Borges said.

The trustee has reported that she plans to go after others who have obtained money or other valuables from Girardi. A lawyer for Miller wrote last month that during a “comprehensive review” of Girardi’s financial records, “the trustee identified numerous transfers of interests in the ownership of the estate to third parties” and wanted clearance of the court to hire more lawyers to find and eventually seize these assets.

Robert K. Rasmussen, a bankruptcy expert and professor at USC’s Gould School of Law, said the law allows a trustee to go after gifts distributed by a debtor in the four years prior to bankruptcy.

“The idea is that you really shouldn’t give money away when it comes out of hiding from people you owe money to,” Rasmussen said. “When you’re insolvent, every dollar you give is one dollar less than you can give to your creditors.”

The relationship between Bigelow, 62, and Girardi was revealed by his wife shortly after his business collapsed in 2020. Erika Girardi posted on Instagram a collage of screenshots of justice text messages on the phone clamshell by Tom Girardi.

“He was paying his Saks bill and paying for his plastic surgery,” Erika Girardi captioned the footage, which appeared to have been sent in 2016.

Some posts show Bigelow asking Girardi to send a check to a cosmetic surgeon in West Hollywood, and she included the doctor’s address. “Please remember,” she texted Girardi.

Erika Girardi later deleted the post, but supporters flooded Bigelow’s cellphone with threats.

When asked if the recently returned gifts included the cost of cosmetic surgery, her lawyer, Jackson, said: “Medical procedures are personal and private matters, and it would be inappropriate to comment on anything related to a medical procedure.”

Bigelow said she recused herself from handling cases involving Girardi or her company after the case began. California judges are required to annually disclose gifts they receive, but there is an exception for gifts received in the context of a “romantic relationship.”

She married another attorney in 2018. After retiring from the bench, she signed with a private law firm in Los Angeles.

Her lawyer said: “She has always been a strong advocate for victims of crime, and she is working hard to do her part to ensure that at least in this case, these victims are healed.”

Los Angeles Times

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