Lawyer Avenatti asks to represent himself in Stormy Daniels theft case

Lawyer Avenatti asks to represent himself in Stormy Daniels theft case
Michael Avenatti (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Once-prominent lawyer Michael Avenatti has tried to interrupt his trial over whether he stole money from porn star Stormy Daniels to ask to represent himself, but the judge refused to delay the proceeding.

His lawyers made the request to US District Judge Jesse M Furman during a break in his Manhattan trial on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.

Avenatti, 50, has denied pocketing nearly 300,000 dollars of a 800,000-dollar advance paid to Daniels for her 2018 book Full Disclosure.

Michael Avenatti with Stormy Daniels (Mary Altaffer/AP)

When Avenatti stood to try to speak about representing himself, Judge Furman cut him off, saying: “Mr Avenatti, please have a seat. I’m not taking it up right now.”

After defence lawyers asked for a brief adjournment to address Avenatti’s request, the judge said: “I’m not going to waste the jury’s time. It’s not happening now.”

In early 2020, Avenatti was convicted of trying to extort up to 25 million dollars from sportswear giant Nike by threatening to tarnish the company’s reputation if it did not meet his demands.

He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. At that trial, he did not give evidence and was represented by lawyers.

Last year, he represented himself in a California federal court against criminal charges that he cheated clients of millions of dollars, and the proceedings ended in a mistrial.

Avenatti became well known nationally in 2018 as he represented Daniels in lawsuits against then-president Donald Trump.

Donald Trump (Ross D Franklin/AP)

Daniels had received 130,000 dollars shortly before the 2016 presidential election to remain silent about her claims that she had had a sexual encounter with Mr Trump a decade earlier.

The former president has denied it happened.

In opening statements on Monday, Avenatti lawyer Andrew Dalack said Avenatti had an agreement with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to share proceeds of any book deal.

Mr Dalack said Avenatti had loaned Daniels hundreds of thousands of dollars while he represented her.

A prosecution witness, Judy Regnier, gave evidence on Tuesday that she did not believe Avenatti had sent any of his law firm’s money to Daniels between July 2018 and February 2019.

Ms Regnier, who worked as a paralegal and office manager for Avenatti for about 11 years, said the firm’s finances were in bad shape during that time.

“I was checking bank accounts to see if there were enough funds to make it through the week, or the day,” she said.

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