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State Bar moves to strip law licenses of Girardi son-in-law, former employee

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The Tom Girardi scandal appeared poised to claim two more legal careers Friday as the State Bar of California initiated disbarment proceedings against the disgraced trial attorney’s son-in-law and another lawyer at his once-vaunted firm.

Agency prosecutors are seeking to strip the licenses of former Girardi Keese litigators David Lira, who is married to Girardi’s daughter, and Keith Griffin, one of last lawyers to flee the crumbling firm two years ago.

Disciplinary notices filed in State Bar Court accuse both of misappropriating funds and other misconduct related to the firm’s representation of the families of airline crash victims killed in a 2018 crash off the coast of Indonesia.

Revelations about money missing from the Lion Air settlements led to the collapse of Girardi’s firm in 2020, scrutiny of his troubled history with client funds, his disbarment last year and a federal indictment earlier this year accusing him and Lira of wire fraud charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.

The State Bar case against Lira and Griffin alleges that they helped him conceal from their clients, Indonesian widows and orphans, that millions in settlement money had arrived into a firm trust account, but that it was not flowing on to the clients.

David Lira outside Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center on April 2, 2019.

David Lira outside Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center on April 2, 2019. He was one of the attorneys who represent Rafael Reyna, on life support in the hospital following a weekend assault outside Dodger Stadium, saying the team hasn’t done enough to improve security since a similar attack eight years ago. (AP Photo/Christopher Weber)

(Christopher Weber / Associated Press)

Lira is accused of issuing checks totalling $2.7 million from an account holding the Boeing money to pay “individuals and entities that were unrelated to the client families.” Prosecutors allege that both men were aware Girardi was lying to clients about the money, but did not inform them.

Lira’s attorney did not return messages seeking comment. Ryan Saba, an attorney for Griffin, said, “We are going to contest the allegations.”

“Keith was not a signatory of the client trust account nor did he have any access to any bank accounts. The real villain here is Tom Girardi,” he said.

Both Lira and Griffin had worked at the firm for two decades, but have insisted that they had little insight into its finances because it did not operate like a traditional firm. Girardi was the sole owner and though he gave lawyers the title of partner, they were his employees and had no power over how he ran the firm.

Lira, 63, left the firm about six months before it shuttered. He has testified that he fought with his father-in-law about the airline money before his resignation. Griffin, 51, remained until just before the firm stopped operating, and has said he told the Indonesians to sue Girardi for legal malpractice before he left.

In their filing, State Bar prosecutors also alleged that both lawyers lied to the federal judge overseeing the airline case. Griffin is accused of giving false testimony at a 2021 hearing in Chicago where he denied making “lulling” statements to an Indonesian client seeking answers about his settlement money.

Lira is accused of lying in the same hearing when he testified that the airline case was the only Girardi Keese settlement he knew of where money was delayed for a month and a half or more. Prosecutors claim Lira knew of several other instances, including payouts held back from a burn victim and residents of a polluted Riverside neighborhood suing for toxic contamination.

Lira is also accused in a separate case of misappropriating $369,000 from a 2014 settlement stemming from a collision between a car and a Caltrans dump truck that killed two people.

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