The curtain fell in November.
After 21 years together, and a 32-year age difference, the union between that one-time go-go-dancer-turned-Real Housewife-turned-middle-aged pop star and a titan of American jurisprudence (one who once represented Erin Brockovich) was over.
Fans of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills know the people involved and the wealth at stake: Erika Jayne is bidding for divorce from 81-year-old Tom Girardi, having boasted on the show about their two planes, a $40,000-a-month glam squad she favored (even flying them to Dubai with her), and a knot of connections so deep that even the then-LAPD chief himself, Charlie Beck, once popped up on-screen on the Bravo series, approaching the couple during lunch in a restaurant as they went on to schmooze.
In December, the saga of Tom and Erika reached an even deeper nadir: the man who'd once battled both drug companies and polluters, and was so socially potent he and his wife even hosted a fundraiser for Joe Biden at the private downtown L.A. Jonathan Club back in 2019, was hit with a suit alleging that he himself embezzled settlement money meant for families of the 189 victims of Lion Air Flight 610, out of Indonesia.
One man in the thick of it who has risen as the chief translator of this many-headed scandal is a no-nonsense lawyer from Beverly Hills named Ronald Richards, using nothing but the teeth of his Twitter feed.
Cutting through the legal jargon and keeping people informed in real time during the hearings and developments in the case, he also crowd-sources a fan-ship that can resemble sports fans in its fervor.
The saga keeps getting stewier. Girardi’s former business partner also slapped a suit against him dissolving their joint venture, as their venerable law firm essentially went belly-up. Wells Fargo Financial Services followed up with a suit alleging breached contract, along with various involuntary bankruptcy petitions. All while, as Girardi acknowledged in testimony, “At one point, I had about 80 million or 50 million in cash. That’s all gone. I don't have any money.”
Bridging together the staid netherworld of the law with an insatiable mob of Bravoholics who know oh-so-well that one of Erika’s songs is It's Expensive to Me, and have total recall of every Death Becomes Her look she has ever donned—an irresistible cocktail mix of money, power, and reality TV, in other words—the story has shown no signs of slowing since.
One moment Tom is claiming dementia, and undisclosed medical issues, as his dentist brother is named his conservator, while delay after delay is attempted in court. Another Erika is moving out of their $16 million Pasadena estate, and into a smaller stead, as their home in Pasadena is then reported to have been burglarized, and Tom himself faces eviction.
The Georgia-born Erika—who had a stint on Broadway pre-pandemic (playing infamous felon Roxie Hart in Chicago!), and potentially faces some real-life legal exposure now because of the $20 million he funneled into her entertainment company, and because they filed taxes together—has herself steadily ramped even more speculation by doing things like posting, and then, deleting “receipts” of a long-ago affair between Tom and a female judge (yup, really!).
Plus there is her Instagram feed that has yo-yo-ed between her picking up KFC one moment and giving her best thirst-trap in lingerie (this one, teasing us with the caption, “Ready, Set, TROLL.”)
The pop culture parallels were also quick to be deployed, as the story dribbled. Some pointed out how the lurid plane crash element to the story amazingly echoes elements of the main plotline of ABC's erstwhile Revenge. Others drew comparison to the riches-to-rags arc of Schitt's Creek—particularly when weighing the extent to which the Girardis are liquidating and downsizing, amid news of the eviction.
“Hang on, I am in the middle of filling a propane tank,” Richards told me, his voice a distant hum, when I tracked him down over the phone to talk, wanting to learn more.
While others might be tentative about speaking out, for fear of getting in the snare of those better acquainted with the mechanics of the law, Richards, a one-time NBC legal analyst during the Michael Jackson trial, is anything but. “I am not worried about getting sued. I am not worried.”
Demonstrating some of the bluster that has become a regular feature in his tweets, Ronald then told me: “I am like Liam Neeson in Taken. I have a special skill set.” Meaning: not only does he know how to access information, but he knows how to interpret the minutiae.
Does he know the defendant—or has he ever faced off against him in court? No, said Richards, “but everyone in California knows who Tom Girardi is in the legal world.”
Has he, more recently, heard from anyone in the Girardi camp about his never-ceasing commentary about the case? Again: “No.” (Neither Tom nor Erika Jayne responded to Daily Beast inquiries when asked for their comments on Richards.)
Growing up in the belly of Beverly Hills, the attorney clearly also has something of a lens on the particular psycho-dynamics of this case, especially with its tangential connection to the 90210 Housewives (even though the Girardis never lived in Beverly Hills). He even attended Beverly Hills High School at the same time as such starry alums as Nicolas Cage and Kiefer Sutherland.
His father was a famous musician, a piano player and accordionist in demand at many A-list parties. His stepfather was a lawyer, from whom he apparently inherited the bug. Spending some time, for a bit, on the East Coast at a prep school (with, he namedrops, the son of James Baker, former White House chief of staff and Reagan-era treasury secretary), Richards went on to study at UCLA, then earned a law degree at the University of La Verne College of Law.
His bona fides since then have include a stint as a professor of law at the San Fernando Valley College of Law, a position as a temporary judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court, and being the first lawyer to be cited on the California Proposition 215, the medical marijuana statute. He is a member of the District of Columbia bar, the Bar of the Eastern District of Michigan, and the United States Supreme Court Bar, among others.
Meanwhile, on a personal level, Richards has an interesting six-degrees-to-Trumpworld: his previous wife (from 2006 to 2009), was actress Louise Linton, who is now wed to Steve Mnuchin, the former U.S. treasury secretary.
Linton, you may recall, punctured the public imagination in 2017 when she posted an Instagram image with a plethora of tone-deaf hashtags (#tomfordsunnies, #hermesscarf, #valentinorockstudheels), and then invited yet more outrage when she was photographed donning long leather opera gloves to a ceremony at the U.S. Mint. She was lately in the news regarding the release of a ridiculous-sounding movie she has made.
Remarkably, it is also not Richards’ first shoulder-collide with Andy Cohen-world. A decade ago, he represented the husband of one-time RHOBH cast-member Taylor Armstrong, Russell Armstrong, who died by suicide between Seasons 2 and 3 of the series.
Richards’ focus now, though? Very much on the Girardis.
Taking doom-scrolling to a new place, and often using the hashtag #GirardiFraud, his tweets in recent weeks have done everything from following the money, around some mysterious transactions at City National, to giving updates on the counting of assets to the state of Tom's Mercedes Benz S560, his mental competence claims, the nature of his conservatorship, and even the latest on Erika’s new digs.
It all coincides with many more emerging details about Tom, going back decades, as detailed in a lengthy article recently in the legal publication Law 360. Though it is the octogenarian legal eagle who is clearly at the center of this saga—one described by Kimberly Archie, a consumer safety advocate who was his one-time protégée, as akin to being a story in which “the knight-in-shining-armor actually turns out to be the boogie man”— there has inevitably been a lot of focus on Erika, too. She is in the midst of shooting the next season of RHOBH, while this off-screen drama is unspooling.
While only Erika can tell us what she knew, Richards is struck by the fact that “she has done nothing to help trustees to help locate these assets (for the bankruptcy case)... She could provide a lot of help. Why is she not cooperating with the U.S. Trustee?”
Instead, she is posting selfies (which, admittedly, might be for some brand sponsorships—she has to earn money), though it does not make it any less optically wise. “She has not shown any contrition for the victims,” Richards added.
It is a point of view that has landed the lawyer in an unexpected place: right smack in the middle of the psycho-drama with the Housewives. He even got pulled into a Page Six story recently when one of the other wives, Dorit Kemsley, was defending Erika (the whole innocent before proven guilty bit), and she seemed to call out Richards for “bullying.”
Justice is what Richards calls it. Asked about the much-made point about Tom and Erika not having a prenup—she has said so much on the show—and what it might mean for her legal jeopardy, he said: “It exposes all of Erika’s assets to seizure by creditors, and it is part of the estate.”
Pausing, he added: “The irony here is she may very well have to pay him spousal support as she is only one who is making money.”