Hello, Blurbers! I’m not sure if many of you on this site are dads, but if you are, Happy Father’s Day! I’m about to head over to my parents for a barbeque, but first! Let’s get to a very special Open Post, in which we recap The Housewife and the Hustler!
Wait, what’s that you ask? Why didn’t we recap THATH on June 15th, the day after the documentary aired? Well, who cares. It’s up now, and we figured Open Post would be a good place to discuss it further. Particularly for those that don’t have access to Hulu. Speaking of discussion, just a reminder that you can talk about whatever you want on Open Post, including shows we don’t normally cover on here!
The only rule is to keep things nice with other posters, and if there’s someone on here you don’t like, just keep scrolling along, or in the immortal words of Blurber the underground train, “The blocking option is a beautiful thing.” With that out of the way, we’ve got A LOT to cover with this recap, so let’s get to it!
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We start with RHONJ alum (drink!) Danielle Staub sauntering into her interview chair with torn-up shoes. It looks like SOMEONE got a pumpkin-colored dye job! Danielle explains she’s only met Erika Jayne a handful of times on WWHL, and Erika is just one of the many fake people Danielle has met in her life. (She would know.)
We then get a newsreel outlining Tom Girardi’s journey from being one of the most respected trial lawyers in the country to a lowlife crook that embezzled millions of dollars from his own clients’ settlement funds.
Ope, here she comes. Erika Girardi mugging to the cameras like she’s an A-list STAH! I’m not familiar with everyone in the talking heads, but the gist is that stealing from clients is literally the WORST thing you can do as a lawyer. They talk about Tom’s private jets, his sprawling Pasadena mansion, and the notorious $40,000 a month on Erika’s stupid face.
Oh look, it’s Dana Wilkey! I hardly recognized her. For someone that got famous by telling everyone her sunglasses cost $25,000, it seems a little silly to watch Dana talk about Erika spending money left and right. I still like Dana, though.
After an uncomfortable amount of time watching Erika writhe around on a bed full of money during her ‘XXpen$ive’ music video, we get a chance to listen to one of Tom’s many victims, THANK GOD. Pipeline explosion burn victim Joe Ruigomez describes how weird it was to watch Erika flaunt her wealth while he still hadn’t been paid his settlement money. Kim Archie, a former legal consultant at Girardi | Keese, tells us she had to play a double agent at the firm because she claims she knew Tom was embezzling money to fund Erika’s career as a singer and Housewife.
In an interview from 2017, when asked if she could live without wealth, Erika sits with her frog face, and says, “Sure. I could do it. I don’t want to. But sure.” The interviewer asks what that would look like, and Erika responds, “Smaller. Less clothes. I don’t know. I don’t look forward to it.” HMMMMMM.
Heather McDonald recalls when she asked Erika to do her podcast, Juicy Scoop, Erika arrived with her glam team, which looked to be about a $2,000 day for appearing on an audio interview. Danielle Staub remarks, “She wasn’t afraid of her body and sensuality. And I like that she can’t really hold a tune… but she sang!” LOLOLOL.
Dana Wilkey thinks Erika held so much sway on RHOBH because she seemed like such a power couple with Tom, the lawyer that supposedly fought for the little guys. Now we get a little montage of Tom’s halcyon days as Boy George’s “Karma Chameleon” plays in the background. Uh oh, Dorit Kemsley… you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do to your Fox Force Five buddy! Tom had a great reputation already, but when Erin Brockovich the movie came along, he catapulted into a real-deal celebrity, and more high-profile cases came spilling into his lap.
(Side note: I wonder what Julia Roberts makes of this whole situation, as she cradles her Oscar and replays her acceptance speech fortnightly. Does she care? Is her Oscar for playing a bitchy paralegal with a push-up bra tainted? Or is she horse-laughing all the way to the bank? SO MANY QUESTIONS.)
Back in 1996, a young (and saintly-seeming) Tom tells Primetime Live that the California water battle case (that would soon be the basis for Erin Brockovich) was a million times worse than other lawsuits he’s handled. “They let these innocent people drink water that was laced with chromium, day in and day out. It’s as bad as it gets,” Tom woefully tells the interviewer.
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Now we travel back in time to 1971, as Erika was born to a music teacher in Georgia. Her dad left when she was only one years-old, and she always wanted to be in the entertainment industry. When Erika was 18, she moved to New York City to get her career going, and ended up dancing in a famous “go-go” club. Danielle Staub mentions that they both worked at the strip club Shakers in New Jersey, which was next to the Ba Da Bing! club from The Sopranos. (I KNEW that was their connection!) “A lot of girls have been wheeled through there. I was just one of them, one of many.”
Next, Kelley Carter, senior entertainment reporter for The Undefeated, tells us Erika made her way to Los Angeles (by the way, there is NO mention about her leaving her infant son to do so… the show vaults right over that nugget of information), and met an older gentleman named Tom. The rest is history! The L.A. dream!
Erika and Tom married in 2000, and a judge who was Tom’s friend officiated the wedding. (A California State Bar attorney was summoned to witness the ceremony.) Dana Wilkey smiles with glee when she tells us there was no prenuptial agreement.
Now, we get a little background about Girardi | Keese. Former legal consultant Kim Archie says that while the pay was good, the perks were incredible. They would often stay at the Ritz Carlton, and their Christmas parties were held at richie rich joints like the Jonathan Club. Country singer LeAnn Rimes (who is probably banging her head against the wall for being affiliated with yet another terrible Housewife) would sing Christmas carols for Tom’s private audience of 300 people.
An entertainment reporter who was at one of Tom’s lavish parties describes seeing Tom motion to a judge like he was Carmella Soprano summoning Charmaine Bucco to fetch the hors d’oeuvres (aren’t my pop culture references so fresh and timely?), and the judge ran right up to him like a puppy dog. Tom’s influence in the legal community was HUGE, in other words. California State Governor Gary Newsom also mentioned to Andy Cohen on WWHL that Tom was one of his biggest political donors, and now we’re starting to understand why complaints against Tom were happily ignored for so long.
Back in 2007, Erika told her husband that she wanted to have a music career. She gave her music with Tom’s money the old college try for years, but later admitted she was making zero investment on it. Tom was about to throw in the towel, but then all of a sudden, Erika was cast on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and her newfound exposure gave her music career a major boost.
We get to see Erika take ABC News’ Abbie Boudreau on a tour of her Pasadena mansion in 2017, and it is really one of the gaudiest houses I’ve ever seen. Shoes! Jewelry! A poorly-wallpapered chapel! Sunny Hostin, a senior legal correspondent for ABC News, remarks, “So this is supposed to be… reality television. But is it reality? Are we really seeing what’s going on? Probably not. Her facade started crumbling when she filed for divorce against Tom in 2020. We now start to learn what is really going on there.”
Okay, SORRY, but I’m really digging Danielle Staub’s shade in this documentary. “The ladies… I use the term ‘ladies’ loosely… they had a tendency to always flaunt well beyond their means.” Then we cut back to that 2017 interview with Erika and Tom, and Tom is asked if he’s ever used to the cameras. “No! They’re bad.” Erika smugly calls Tom her leader. So much chemistry between those two!
Criminal defense attorney Chris Darden states how surprised he was to see Tom agree to be on television, and then we see Erika gloat about the Marc Chagall painting Tom got her for her birthday. “They can go for over a million dollars, easily.” She also brags about the family having two private airplanes. Several attorneys explain how uncomfortable they were by Tom’s super-wealthy presentation, despite being an attorney “for the little guy.”
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Joe Ruigomez is back, and we learn that he met Tom Girardi right after he woke up from a coma. “There’s not a lot I remember about meeting him. I have a vague memory of some guy in my room saying ‘I’m going to do a good job for you, kiddo.’ He made me feel like you can trust him.” Jamie, Joe’s sister, describes that September 9, 2010, was the longest day of her life. Kathy, Joe’s mother, says that they were sitting on the couch and about to watch a football game, and then out of nowhere, the ground started rapidly shaking. Then, BOOM. A gas line burst and the house went up in flames. Joe thought to himself, “Okay, this is it. I’m pretty sure I’m dying.” He remembered someone putting an oxygen mask on his face, and then five seconds later, he was out.
Dr. Michael Kulick, Joe’s plastic surgeon, remembers that day like it was yesterday. He says Joe had burns over 80 to 90% of his body. “Not only was the external part of his body burned, but the air he was inhaling was burning his lungs.” Kathy recalls that after she surveyed her destroyed neighborhood, she soon learned that Joe’s girlfriend Jessica Morales had died in a shed near their house during the blast. “It was just devastating.”
In an incredible twist of fate, Kim Archie was actually childhood best friends with Kathy Ruigomez, and she went to the hospital immediately after learning what happened to Joe and Jessica. Kim initiated contact between Kathy and Tom. Kathy says of the day they met, “We just didn’t know what a snake he was going to be.”
At first, Kim was relieved she was able to hook Kathy up with Giardi | Keese. After all, Tom took on massive corporations like PG&E, sometimes even multiple times. “You want your lawyer to hate the bad guys as much as you do.” A year and a half after the San Bruno explosion, Tom reached out to work with Kim, and she became a legal consultant with his firm over the next seven years. In retrospect, Kim rolls her eyes over being taken under Tom’s wing.
Joe Ruigomez remembers Tom waxing on about his wife, Erika. “Oh, she’s the sweetest thing. You like this tie I’m wearing, Joe? She picked it out. Yeah, she’s really good at style.” (WHAT?!?) Tom even showed Joe one of Erika’s music videos that he funded. Joe’s mom Kathy says that Tom never gave them many details about their case, and one day, he told them it had been settled. Kathy was surprised that this was done without their knowledge. Despite their confusion, Joe was comfortable with the settlement amount.
Brian Kabateck, former president of the LA County Bar Association, explains to us that client settlements always need to go into a trust account, separate and apart from the law firm representing them (apart from legal fees). Sunny Hostin tells us, “Everyone knows that if you dip into the client’s trust account, you could be disbarred.”
Tom suggested to Kathy that they put the settlement funds into an investment of Tom’s choosing, with a guaranteed six percent interest. “He was supposedly a millionaire, so I thought he knew what he was doing,” Kathy laments. “The amounts of the investment he claimed were not accurate. He never sent any statements of any kind.”
Joe and his family were given a run around for months, sometimes receiving payments, and sometimes not. Kim and Kathy were on the phone every day, trying to sort things out. Let’s put a pin in Joe’s story for now.
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Moving onto another victim of Tom Girardi, we meet Josie Hernandez. A voicemail begins, “Ms. Hernandez, this is Tom Girardi. I know you’re so frustrated and mad and everything. I don’t blame you. I am too.” In 2010, Josie sought out a doctor for incontinent issues after having three children. “I talked to my doctor. ‘Oh, we have this sling, it’s so super safe. We’ll implant it, and you’ll be good.’ Did the procedure… it didn’t work. I started getting sick. I went back to the doctor, and they said ‘okay, let’s put in another one.’” Things got worse for Josie, and she underwent several surgeries to repair damage associated with the implant.
Josie signed up with Girardi | Keese, and in 2014, she settled her case against the implant manufacturer for $135,000. She says that during her time with the firm, her case changed hands several times, which was very confusing and stressful. Then, in 2019, Josie got tired of waiting for her settlement money. We’ll find out what happens in a minute, but back to Joe Ruigomez.
We see Joe at a doctor appointment, where he explains one of his arms has a restrictive range of motion. He’s had over 30 surgeries, and at the time of filming, he had six more scheduled. “I’m in quite a lot of fear. I’m going to need a lot of money for the medical life I have ahead.” Tom was unresponsive to Joe’s pleas for money, and whenever they actually spoke, Tom would butter him up and call Joe a “bitchin’ guy.” Then Tom referenced a judge named Justice Edward Panelli. Per Tom’s voicemail, “Justice Panelli oversees all this, and he gave me the authority to pay out to the end of the year our young man.”
Justice Panelli, a retired judge from the State Supreme Court, was the mediator for the Ruigomez Family and PG&E. Tom told Joe that Justice Panelli was concerned about giving Joe the lump sum of his settlement all at once because he’s seen things “go bad” giving that much money to young people. Citing Justice Panelli as “very protective,” Tom wouldn’t give Joe the funds, despite him needing immediate surgeries. When contacted for this documentary, Justice Panelli’s rep said they were unaware of Mr. Girardi’s actions. He had no involvement in the distribution of settlement funds to Joe Ruigomez.
About a year after the settlement, the Ruigomez family realized that something was not right with their attorney. To make matters worse, Kim Archie’s son died in a tragic motorcycle accident. It’s heartbreaking to see Kim’s anguish. “It was that moment where my son’s death gave Tom a free pass to start all over again with me and Kathy… now we’re dealing with a whole new set of tragic circumstances.”
Kim filed a wrongful death lawsuit in her son’s accident. Kathy and Kim both thought it would be a good idea to take the case to another attorney, given the issues they’d been having with Tom, but it turns out, the other attorneys didn’t want to step on Tom’s toes, so they declined representation. The women felt they didn’t have any other choice but to file the lawsuit with Tom as Kim’s attorney.
2017 was the last year Tom gave any settlement money to Joe. Kathy, Kim, and Joe didn’t know where to turn because EVERYONE seemed to be in Tom’s pocket. Brian Kabateck says he started noticing a lot of lawsuits around Tom, but chalked it up to people coming after a big name lawyer. We cut to an Erika Jayne appearance on WWHL where Andy asks Erika if she should cut down on her glam squad since her husband was getting sued so much. Erika’s response was, “Uh, yeah, it’s a lawsuit, so I can’t comment on it.”
Rumors started to swirl that Tom Girardi was running out of money. Brian Kabateck muses, “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is a guy that’s worth at least a couple hundred million dollars. He’s set for life!”
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Back to victim Josie Hernandez, we hear another voicemail from Tom: “I don’t want you to be mad at me. I’m working like a dog to try and get this thing resolved. I know it’s very frustrating to wait so long for the settlement, and then to be delayed further. But I’m in your corner. Believe me, we’d like our money just like you’d like yours. I’m sorry. Don’t be mad at me. I’m a good guy, by the way.”
Josie filed a complaint with the State Bar. She received confirmation that her settlement money was wired to Girardi | Keese in May of 2020. The messages Tom left for Josie were in August of 2020, so she knew he was lying. “He had my money already. I haven’t received anything. Not a penny.”
The news came that Erika Girardi filed for divorce against Tom on Election Day of 2020. Chris Murphy of Vanity Fair said he was flooded with texts that day. Dana Wilkey affirms that rumors were already swirling about the potential divorce, but wouldn’t disclose her source. Before Erika filed for divorce, all sorts of lenders started suing Tom for unpaid funds, and they did it in a very public manner.
Upon hearing of Erika’s divorce filing, Kim Archie knew she had to separate from Girardi | Keese. “We couldn’t wait for Paul’s case to be done anymore. Paul is dead. Joe is still alive. So, we had to pick Joe. He had priority again, because he’s still here. So Kathy and I scooped up and left, and found another attorney.”
The Ruigomez Family filed a lawsuit for their remaining settlement. Tom Girardi agreed to pay the family $12 million, in million-dollar increments. He made a first payment, but never got around to making more payments, so the family sued to enforce the settlement agreement. In a deposition held in September 2020, a withered-looking Tom says, “At one point, I had about $80 million or $50 million in cash. That’s all gone. I also had a stock portfolio of about $50 million, and that’s all gone.”
Sunny Hostin asks, “Where did it go? Where’s the money? And that admission that he has no money opens the door to Erika’s finances.” Erika was subpoenaed twice to give a deposition about the couple’s assets in May and September of 2020. The hearings were postponed, so she never sat for questions.
In December 2020, Chicago lawyer Jay Edelson filed a lawsuit against Tom because neither he nor his clients had been paid. Dana Wilkey explains, “The Chicago case was groundbreaking in the sense that it finally brought out in the public eye to all the media outlets that Tom Girardi was potentially a fraud.”
Brian Kabateck was involved with the mediation for the Lion Air Crash of 2018, and helped Tom represent the families of victims that tragically died on the flight. The class-action lawsuit won the widows and orphans multiple millions of dollars, but nobody saw the full settlement money come in. Once Erika Girardi filed for divorce, the interested parties knew they had to take action.
Jay Edelson was convinced that Tom had stolen tens of millions of dollars from creditors, loan companies, and victims so that he could fund the lavish lifestyle that he presented to his colleagues and on the show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for his wife, Erika.
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Over in Indonesia, Bias Ramadhan explains that he lost his mother in the Lion Air crash of 2018. Her name was Hasnawati. “This is a tragedy, right?” Bias asks. “And then the lawsuit is also emotionally draining. There’s almost no night that anybody like this is not crying.”
Similarly to what happened with Kathy and Joe Ruigomez, Tom received the settlement funds from Boeing for the plane crash, and he made promises to those he represented that the money would be coming soon. Bias waited and waited, and didn’t receive any responses when he tried to reach Tom directly.
Judge Thomas Durkin, a former federal prosecutor, was overseeing all of the cases linked to the Lion Air crash. He not only found Tom Girardi in contempt, but he also froze Tom’s bank accounts, including the accounts Girardi | Keese oversaw. That swift move immediately paralyzed the firm’s activities, and for good measure, Judge Durkin also referred Tom’s alleged ethical violations over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that Tom had given his wife Erika’s company, EJ Global, over $20 million in loans. So now there’s speculation that Erika was taking money that rightfully belonged to Tom’s clients. The documents that keep getting referenced to this transaction haven’t been released yet, so the question on everyone’s mind is: WHAT DID SHE KNOW?
Bias reminds us, “We are the victims here. Not him, not Tom, not his wife. It’s only me and three of my siblings.” [Recapper runs off to grab a Kleenex] “We just want to know, can we get our money? And when will we get it?”
Tom’s defense attorney suggested that he’s mentally incompetent, and a psychiatrist in Los Angeles diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s Disease shortly after Tom was forced into involuntary bankruptcy. Justin Kloczko, a reporter for The Debaser, says, “I think his whole diagnosis will carry some weight on whether he can be criminally charged or not.” Brian Kabateck remarks that while he can’t comment on the actual diagnosis, he thinks it’s strange that mere months before, Tom was speaking at public engagements, and he doesn’t feel that Tom was suffering from any diminished capacity.
The bankruptcy trustees are now liquidating Tom’s assets to pay back creditors. That includes listing the Pasadena mansion and Tom’s Wilshire Boulevard office buildings. Sunny Hostin tells us that upon Girardi | Keese shutting down, the firm had approximately 9,000 clients. “What happens to those people? Those cases?” Hostin asks.
At this point, Tom Girardi is currently ineligible to practice law in the state of California. The State Bar has been pursuing his disbarment. “A day late, and a dollar short, right?” Brian Kabateck asks. “Maybe that action should have taken place sooner.” (Ummm, maybe?)
The State Bar of California released a statement responding to criticism of its handling of Tom’s conduct over the years: “An audit of past complaints filed against Attorney Thomas V. Girardi… revealed mistakes made [by the Bar] in some investigations over the many decades of Mr. Girardi’s career going back some 40 years.” Cool, guys, thanks! “Additionally, the Board of Trustees is committed to… implementing important and significant reforms to improve the State Bar’s oversight of attorney-client trust accounts and the discipline system as a whole.”
In another amazing twist of fate, Erika Jayne likely has more assets than Tom at this point, so she may be shit out of luck when it comes to the divorce. It’s sixes on whether she can come out on top of this situation, or find herself in a huge amount of debt.
Kim Archie ruminates, “What do I think of Erika now? Um, the whole empowerment of having an alter ego… I thought it was cool in the beginning. But now, realizing that not only were they spending the money that came from tragedy, but Tom was taking money that didn’t belong to him. And they were parading it around for everyone to see, it’s outrageous. It doesn’t look good.”
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We cut to a yet-unseen episode of RHOBH where Garcelle Beauvais asks Erika, “Any of the lawsuits, like, did you have a heads up? Is that why you got divorced?” Erika nods her head yes before answering, “No, I did not.”
“No one knows the answer but HIM,” Erika tells the cast members. Well, she was secretary of Tom’s main business, so despite her cryptic answer, it remains to be seen what level of involvement she had in all this. Regardless, her $4,000 Chanel bag and $140,000 Cartier ring make her look like the insensitive bitch that she is, especially knowing these stupid items came off the backs of victims.
The trustees in the Girardi bankruptcy asked for a special counsel to recover assets from Erika Jayne. Her defense is that many of the assets in her possession were gifts, so she’s entitled to them. There are A LOT of legal proceedings underway that will give us more answers, but as Heather McDonald tells us, “People like to see the demise. They want to see that less glammed-up face, they want to see her defend herself, they want to see her roll around on a bed and cry.”
NBCUniversal, the parent company of Bravo, did not respond to requests for comment. We finish the documentary with Kathy Ruigomez and Kim Archie watching Erika’s premiere episode of RHOBH where she says, “Being broke sucks. Being rich is a lot better.” The ladies laughingly remark, “Fun days are ahead for Erika.” They have now set up a website and call line to help other former Girardi | Keese clients recover their funds.
Thanks to their judgment against Girardi, the Ruigomezes are among the first in line to collect their settlement money from the bankruptcy. We end the documentary with a scene of Joe Ruigomez’s scars all over his body. “As far as the scars, I wear them with pride.”
*Sniff* Very moving words.
TELL US – What did you think of the documentary The Housewife and the Hustler? Did anyone else cry their eyes out when the victims were interviewed? Do you think Erika Jayne should still be a Housewife?