Ex-celebrity lawyer Tom Girardi found competent to stand trial for alleged $15 million client thefts

FILE - Attorney Tom Girardi smiles outside the Los Angeles courthouse on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. A federal judge filed a brief order Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, stating that the disgraced Los Angeles celebrity lawyer has been found competent to stand trial on charges that he stole more than $15 million from his clients. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

FILE - Attorney Tom Girardi smiles outside the Los Angeles courthouse on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. A federal judge filed a brief order Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, stating that the disgraced Los Angeles celebrity lawyer has been found competent to stand trial on charges that he stole more than $15 million from his clients. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Disgraced Los Angeles celebrity lawyer Tom Girardi has been found competent to stand trial on charges that he stole more than $15 million from his clients.

A federal judge filed a notice of the brief order Tuesday under seal. Lawyers for both sides were given five days to identify any information in it that they would like the judge to keep confidential.

Girardi, 84, is the estranged husband of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Erika Jayne.

Girardi pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles last year to wire fraud on charges that he embezzled from clients, including an Arizona widow whose husband was killed in a boat accident; a Los Angeles couple injured in a car wreck that paralyzed their son; and a man who was severely burned in the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to decades in federal prison.

The Associated Press sent messages to his public defenders seeking comment.

At issue in the competency hearing was whether Girardi understood the charges and proceedings against him and could help with his own defense. His lawyers argued that he was unable to take part in the trial because he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which they said has left him confused and with memory problems. He currently is staying in the memory care unit of a nursing home.

Prosecutors contended that Girardi was exaggerating his symptoms.

As one of the nation’s most prominent plaintiff’s attorneys, Girardi took on powerful corporations, movie studios and Pacific Gas and Electric in a case that led to a $333 million settlement, which was portrayed in the 2000 Julia Roberts film “Erin Brockovich.”

But his law empire collapsed, he was disbarred in California in 2022 over client thefts, and he faces mounting legal problems.

Girardi also faces federal wire fraud charges in Chicago, where he is accused of stealing about $3 million from family members of victims of a 2018 Lion Air crash that killed 189 people.

The Chicago court is expected to follow the competency decision in California.