Disgraced lawyer Michael Avenatti will not leave a California courthouse as a free man Friday, but he hopes to have more freedom than he’s enjoyed the past 16 months as four federal criminal trials against him play out.
The embattled attorney and onetime CNN darling is asking the U.S District Court judge who originally set the terms of his confinement to relax restrictions against him. A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning in Santa Ana, California.
In early 2020, Judge James Selna agreed with prosecutors who said Avenatti was a danger to the community and needed to await trial behind bars. For several months, Avenatti was held in a notorious New York City federal lockup until shortly after a jury found the 50-year old guilty of trying to extort Nike.
It was then that the coronavirus pandemic swept across the country, and like thousands of other federal inmates, Avenatti — still awaiting sentencing — was released from custody but with severe restrictions on his movements. He’s been living under house arrest in a modest California home owned by a childhood friend.
In court filings, Avenatti claimed he’s left the property only for court appearances and to get a COVID-19 vaccination, and has followed the judge’s order prohibiting use of internet-capable electronic devices. He’s seeking the ability to move more freely throughout Southern California and to have limited use of those electronics.
Avenatti argued he’s too famous to skip trial, and too poor to cause problems if his motion is granted.
“[T]he government cannot meet their burden and prove by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Avenatti is presently a danger to the community or that no conditions can reasonably assure the safety of the community,” lawyer Dean Steward recently argued to the court.
The filings also included documentation from federal detention officials who agreed that Avenatti was not a flight risk and had no disciplinary problems since his first arrest over two years ago. Avenatti also repeatedly cited his financial straits — he’s unemployed with a suspended bar license, has “no access to any meaningful income…[and] relies entirely on friends and family to support him.”
Federal prosecutors — who previously have asked for Avenatti to get sent back to prison — argued he’s a serious flight risk. “Defendant is and was an economic danger both when he had money and when he did not,” they contended.
Barring further delays, Avenatti’s sentencing in the Nike case is expected to take place at the end of June. He’d face up to 14 years in prison. The first of two fraud trials in California is set for July. Meanwhile, a fourth trial, in which Avenatti is accused of stealing money from former client Stormy Daniels, is scheduled for early next year.
Daniels, an adult-film star, had sued former President Donald Trump for defamation after he dismissed her claims of hush-money payments to hide their alleged 2006 affair. The Supreme Court rejected her appeal to revive the suit earlier this year after a lower court had already dismissed it.