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Parents who say they were defrauded by Tom Girardi after losing their son file lawsuit against California State Bar

Tom Girardi was supposed to do justice.

Ana and Arturo Agaton, a Californian couple whose son died of cancer they say was caused by cement plants near their home, have turned to the famed lawyer to hold the polluter to account and help restore financial stability for the family after burying Arturo Jr.

“We were so sure he represented us,” Ana Agaton said of Girardi. “At the time, he was the king of the lawyers in Los Angeles.”

Watch Ana and Arturo Agaton’s interview on Nightline, Thursday night, September 7 at 12:35 a.m. ET on ABC, and stream it on Hulu.

Girardi has built a reputation and a legal empire fighting for the little guys — the people wronged by big business, like utilities, airlines and industrial giants. He won judgments and settlements and was portrayed on the big screen as a savior in the 2000 film ‘Erin Brockovich’. And, in recent years, he’s been introduced to a whole new generation of Americans, flaunting his wealth while starring as Erika Jayne’s super-rich, well-connected husband on the reality series “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” “

“We were sure he was taking care of our…case,” Ana Agaton said. “But we never imagined that in the end, when they sent a letter from his office saying the case was won and they were just waiting to distribute the checks to the families in the proper way, everything went wrong. stopped there because from then on we never heard from them again.”

The couple said they hadn’t seen a penny of the 2015 settlement with Riverside Cement Holdings Co. And the Agatons didn’t know it at the time, but they weren’t alone, as authorities claim .

Today, Girardi is in disgrace, disbarred and charged in two states with defrauding his clients. The Agatons fight again – this time to hold to account, not a polluting corporation, but the state of California and its agency tasked with rooting out corruption and crooks among the Golden State’s 200,000 attorneys.

Attorney Tom Girardi smiles outside the Los Angeles courthouse on July 9, 2014.

Damien Dovarganes/AP

“We want justice,” said Ana Agaton.

Today in Los Angeles, the Agatons filed a class action lawsuit against the California Bar, alleging ‘gross negligence’ and ‘reckless misconduct’, claiming the body charged with regulating the nation’s largest legal community “has not done his job”. “and” actively protected Tom Girardi and (his company) Girardi & Keese of ethical complaints and discipline for decades.”

“If the state bar had fulfilled its mission to protect the public, this complaint, and many others like it, would not be necessary,” the lawsuit states. “But the State Bar didn’t put the public first. Instead, while Girardi worked hard to defraud his clients and co-lawyers, State Bar officials roamed the country to aboard Girardi’s private jet, staying in luxury hotels in Las Vegas, enjoying fine dining at expensive private clubs, attending lavish holiday parties with Hollywood entertainers or attending concerts and other events, the all paid for by Girardi.

The attorney currently representing the Agatons, Daniel Osborn, told ABC News’ “Nightline” that Girardi could never have gotten away with his project without one thing.

Parents who say they were defrauded by Tom Girardi after losing their son file lawsuit against California State Bar

Ana and Arturo Agaton are seen in an image from ABC News in August 2023.

ABC News

“Corruption,” Osborn said. “To me, that means corruption.”

“If the state bar had been policing attorneys, including Tom Girardi, as much as it was supposed to, this project would never have happened,” Osborn said.

California bar officials did not immediately respond to the lawsuit.

In March, the bar issued a public statement admitting its own failures, which allowed Girardi to do what he did to his clients.

“The scale and duration of the transgressions reveal a persistent institutional failure and a shocking past culture of unethical and unacceptable behavior,” the bar said on March 10, alongside the release of reports detailing the actions of alumni. staff members and managers. “Over the past few years, we have implemented many safeguards that serve both to prevent unethical or corrupt behavior and, if it does occur, to detect and respond to it quickly. This work continues.”

The new lawsuit, filed by Osborn, is largely based on the findings of those bar reports. It marks the opening of a new front in a scandal that has already rocked the legal and entertainment worlds and enveloped Girardi and his estranged wife, who has repeatedly insisted she was not unaware of or was not a party to Girardi’s alleged crimes.

Girardi, 84, faces federal wire fraud charges in Los Angeles and Chicago, alleging he embezzled millions of clients’ money to fund his lavish lifestyle. He has pleaded not guilty and his attorneys are currently fighting to have a federal judge in California declare Girardi incompetent to stand trial due to insanity. A hearing on the jurisdictional issue is scheduled to resume Monday in Los Angeles.

Now bankrupt and represented by taxpayer-funded lawyers, Girardi lost his home and the trappings of success that infuriated the Agatons when they saw them on television.

“The mansions,” said Ana Agaton. “The mansions he owns, the life his wife lives. Their lifestyle. Their lifestyle with money that doesn’t belong to them.”

Parents who say they were defrauded by Tom Girardi after losing their son file lawsuit against California State Bar

Tom Girardi arrives for a first appearance in Edward Roybal federal court in Los Angeles, February 6, 2023, after being indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly embezzling more than $15 million from several of his legal clients.

Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Agatons had moved to Colton, California, between Riverside and San Bernardino, dreaming of a better life for their daughter Dahlia and her younger brother, “Arturito,” as they called him. 17 years ago, their three-year-old son began to suffer from headaches and a runny nose that would mark the beginning of the end. The family was unaware that the two cement factories surrounding their neighborhood were quietly polluting the community and preying on those who lived there, they said.

“My husband was supposed to take him to the park to start his first game that day,” Ana Agaton recalled of her son. “And instead we had to take him to the hospital. And he was there, in the hospital, he was screaming that he didn’t want to be there, that he had to go play baseball. “

Ana and Arturo learned that their son was suffering from a malignant brain tumor, which was caused by hexavalent chromium from cement factories. Radiation and chemotherapy followed, but Arturo Jr.’s tiny body could not escape the hands of death.

“We had to get down on our knees one night and ask the Lord to take him – we asked the Lord that if he wasn’t going to heal him, we would take him because it was so hard to see him, to see.” crying and screaming because of headaches,” said Ana Agaton.

“‘You gave it to us and you take it whenever you want. Please take it away,'” she recalled saying to God. “It was the most difficult period, but it had to be done.”

Arturo Jr. died three years after his first symptoms appeared. In 2015, the Agatons were part of a class action lawsuit filed by Girardi against Riverside Cement Holdings Co. The company settled $31 million.

Today, the Agatons say, they find themselves on a long list of former Girardi clients who have become victims.

Their new lawsuit against the California Bar seeks, among other things, unspecified financial damages and legal fees.

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