The bigger they are, the harder they fall. And Michael Avenatti was big.
In 2018, ATL named him “Lawyer of the Year” after he dominated headlines and delivered the goods. He managed to prove that Trump had paid Stormy Daniels for her silence about the affair, laundering the money through his eponymous company. And Avenatti unearthed bank records proving that Michael Cohen had used his proximity to the president to extract cash from multiple companies with business before the Trump administration.
And then … things went totally off the rails.
This month, Avenatti was sentenced to 30 months in prison for attempting to extort Nike. Next year, he’ll face charges of stealing Stormy Daniels’ book advance in New York. And today he’s on trial in California for allegedly stealing a multi-million dollar settlement won for a paraplegic client. Also bank fraud, failure to file tax returns, wire fraud, etc.
And that’s where things went even more off the rails.
Thanks to live tweets by Law.Com reporter Megan Cuniff, we know that US District Judge James Selna has just accepted Avenatti’s request to represent himself pro se, relegating his highly capable attorney H. Dean Steward to “standby counsel.”
Naturally this prompted the entirety of Law Twitter to double over laughing at Avenatti’s dogged determination to screw over one last client. And who doesn’t appreciate a good belly laugh, right?
The kerfuffle commenced a couple of hours ago, before the potential jury pool was dismissed for lunch.
Avenatti was famously arrested during his own disbarment hearing, and was suspended from the practice of law in California a year ago. Nonetheless, Steward moved that Avenatti should be able to participate as co-counsel.
But prosecutors argued that this might be confusing to the jury, and the court agreed.
Faced with the choice of shutting the hell up or exploding his case, Avenatti formally requested to represent himself pro se. Under questioning, Avenatti admitted that, in a long career as a civil litigator, he’d never actually tried a criminal case. Although he did cite to his participation in his own trial in New York just recently.
And although he confessed to being unfamiliar with all the elements of the many crimes alleged in the 36-count indictment, Avenatti got his wish. When the jurors returned, Judge Selna informed them that the defendant would henceforth be representing himself, and that that they were to take no inference therefrom.
Not being members of the jury pool, though, we will take the obvious inference that Avenatti has lost his damn mind.
Well … good luck to him!
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.