Michael Avenatti requests public defender, says he can't pay current attorney

Michael Avenatti, lawyer of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, attends an event in Clear Lake, Iowa, on Aug. 10, 2018.


By SHAYNA JACOBS | The Washington Post | Published: August 1, 2020

NEW YORK — Michael Avenatti is unable to pay his attorney ahead of his second criminal trial in federal court in Manhattan and has asked for representation by the public defender's office, also citing a conflict with his current counsel.

Avenatti "no longer has [the] financial ability to pay for undersigned counsel or any other attorney to represent him in this matter," lawyer Thomas Warren wrote on his behalf in a filing to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Friday.

In a separate filing to the court earlier in the week, Warren said "a non-waivable conflict of interest has arisen" for his firm that "requires our withdrawal as counsel." He wrote, however, that before learning of the conflict, the firm "had already intended" to ask to be relieved because it was not being paid.

The details of the conflict have not been made public. U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ordered a phone conference to discuss the matter on Aug. 7.

Avenatti started coming up short on legal bills when Warren was at his prior law firm. Warren said he continued with the case when he moved to his current firm, which is based in Los Angeles, only because the trial was so close.

Past delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic and future potential setbacks have changed circumstances for Warren. His firm, Warren Terzian, has no office in New York "and we have no expectation of any compensation in this case," he wrote.

Furman allowed Avenatti, who in recent years has flaunted a life of luxury, to file his financial affidavit under seal. The statement is needed to verify his claim that he cannot afford a private lawyer.

Avenatti's next trial is set to start in October, though it is likely to be rescheduled. In the upcoming proceeding, he will face charges that he cheated the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels in dealings over a book contract. Prosecutors said Avenatti paid his own debts and expenses with stolen money.

Avenatti made a name for himself representing Daniels, who alleged that she an affair with Donald Trump before he became president, an assertion that Trump has repeatedly denied. Daniels was paid a hush-money payment from Trump's former lawyer and confidant Michael Cohen in 2016 during the presidential campaign. In a plea in federal court in 2018, Cohen admitted to paying off Daniels and another woman.

After becoming an outspoken Trump critic through the Daniels case, Avenatti suffered a personal and professional downfall, mired in lawsuits and criminal cases in New York and Los Angeles.

He was convicted in February of attempted extortion, transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort and honest services wire fraud. Avenatti was accused of demanding up to $25 million from the sports apparel company Nike under the threat that he would expose an alleged in-house scandal.

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