Celebrity criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos is firing back at the Los Angeles Times, saying the newspaper is “corrupt” as it pushes a story on how the California State Bar is investigating “potential misconduct” connected to his work on a sprawling settlement involving victims of the Armenian Genocide as a form of payback.
“The L.A. Times has devolved into a corrupt organization,” Geragos told LAMag on Tuesday. He was responding to the paper’s story about a renewed State Bar investigation into fund distribution in a landmark $17.5 million settlement from a French insurance company to Armenian families stating they were ripped off when trying to make claims on slain loved ones.
Geragos says that the paper’s reporting this week on the State Bar’s announcement is a form of retaliation against him stemming from some recent bad blood. Editors at the Times were furious, he says, when he refused to grant access to his client as its reporters were covering a sensational case.
In a Tuesday announcement, the State Bar thanked the Times for its “excellent reporting,” on the Armenians who said they have been left high and dry, adding that the “status of attorneys or the size of their practice cannot and will not impact our decisions to investigate misconduct.” This was a reference to Geragos whose clients also include celebrities like Winona Ryder, Jussie Smollett, and the late Michael Jackson. The announcement also names attorney Brian Kabateck, who also worked on the settlement.
But Geragos insists he was the one who exposed the fraud that led the Bar to discipline less visible attorneys in the Armenian Genocide case for misappropriating settlement funds.
“I’m the one who filed the lawsuit to expose the fraud, recoup the stolen money, and testified previously for the State Bar,” he says.
Geragos has twice successfully represented Armenian descendants of victims of the 1915 Armenian Genocide massacre, in which an estimated 1.5 million people died. With the help of a team of lawyers, his work led to settlements of $20 million from the New York Life Insurance Co. and $17 million from AXA, an insurance company based in France but with holdings in the United States.
Geragos, who is of Armenian descent, has publicly stated that beyond financial compensation, his ultimate goal is to win official recognition of the Armenian Genocide—a mass slaughter of his people that Turkey continues to deny.
On Tuesday, Geragos also railed against the notion that funds went to his own “pet project,” which is referenced in the State Bar’s release: “Money collected failed to compensate many of the victims’ families and was sent to the pet charities of lawyers involved in the case, including their alma mater, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were directed to sham claimants.”
Geragos said a portion of the settlement was donated to Loyola Law School, his alma mater, for a program that recognizes the Armenian Genocide but that he finds the term “pet charity” offensive. “Can you imagine you’re a Jewish lawyer and they call the Lowenstein Center at Fordham a pet charity? It smacks of racism.”
Kabateck also rebuked the paper’s story in a letter obtained by LAMag, writing: “The allegations that the L.A. Times is belatedly recycling were all fully investigated by the State Bar of California which concluded that there was absolutely no impropriety of any kind by me or my firm.
“The undisputed facts are and will always be that an independent third-party appointed, approved and overseen by the Court (like in any other class action) distributed the settlement funds to the class members,” Geragos wrote, echoing his colleague’s complaints.
The State Bar was widely criticized for not reining in the blatant greed of bad actors with law licenses—particularly after a racketeering indictment was filed against Real Housewives of Beverly Hills personality Tom Girardi for stealing settlement cash to fund a lavish lifestyle. This was acknowledged in the statement by Board Chair Ruben Duran.
“Confidence in our ability to [stifle corruption] has unfortunately been shaken in recent times by the Girardi matter and what it represents. Restoring and maintaining the public’s trust in the disciplinary apparatus of this agency is imperative. To that end, it is important to emphasize that the State Bar investigates possible misconduct wherever it might occur.”