The bad news: We have a new impeachment effort under way. The good news: Its target is Michael Avenatti. The State Bar of California asked a judge to forbid the one-time Democratic presidential hopeful from practicing law, accusing Avenatti of theft facilitated by “deceit, dishonesty, and lies”:
Attorney Eli Morgenstern said Avenatti poses a threat to clients and the public if he continues to perform legal work. The bar is seeking to put Avenatti on involuntary inactive status, and Morgenstern said it is likely he will eventually be disbarred.
Avenatti, who separately faces federal criminal charges, denounced the hearing as a “dog and pony show” and a “complete joke.”
The lawyer best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump faces charges in New York of trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike and stealing from Daniels. He faces trial in California on charges he cheated on his taxes and embezzled millions from clients.
That’s bad enough, but the State Bar won’t need to address those situations until after Avenatti gets tried for them. Whether they should is another matter, but they have found a convenient way around passing judgment on an open criminal matter. This action focuses on another example of Avenatti’s business practices, in which he allegedly stole $1.6 million from a client:
In the bar proceeding, Avenatti is only accused of stealing from one client, Gregory Barela, for whom he negotiated a $1.9 million settlement in an intellectual property dispute.
Avenatti stole all but $609 of the initial $1.6 million payout made in January 2018, Morgenstern said. He said bank records support the allegations.
Barela said Avenatti never told him the money had been received and gave him the runaround as he desperately racked up debts trying to run a construction supply business and another startup.
Avenatti called the proceedings “a complete joke” and “a dog and pony show.” He didn’t have a high opinion of his former client, either:
Avenatti said the only witness against him in the bar proceeding, a former client, is a “career criminal with a history of lying.”
“The entire thing is going to be shown to be politically motivated,” Avenatti told reporters before the hearing started in Los Angeles.
At the moment, Avenatti has more pressing issues than the end of his career. On the other coast yesterday, Avenatti pled not guilty to a revised indictment for extortion in the Nike case, in which Avenatti allegedly demanded a huge payment to keep silent about payoffs to athletes:
Michael Avenatti pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to an indictment accusing him of trying to extort as much as $25 million from Nike Inc (NKE.N) by threatening to go public with claims the company made improper payments to athletes.
Clasping his hands behind his back, the celebrity lawyer, who gained fame representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against U.S. President Donald Trump, said “not guilty” after U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe read each of the three counts against him in Manhattan federal court.
Avenatti declined to comment after the hearing.
Prosecutors have accused Avenatti, 48, of demanding money from Nike in exchange for agreeing to scrap a threatened news conference to discuss the athletic wear company’s alleged improper payments to elite college basketball recruits.
In a sense, the State Bar’s efforts might be moot. Avenatti doesn’t have the time to practice law these days except on his own behalf, and his upcoming trial might well finish quicker than this motion by the bar to enjoin him from any more client work. In that sense, perhaps Avenatti’s correct that it’s a “dog and pony show,” but an entirely necessary one given the claims made and the evidence that the State Bar plans to present.
It’s curious, though, that while local stations and the Associated Press has a number of reports on these developments, neither CNN nor MSNBC have anything about the latest on the man who used to be one of their favorite guests. Go figure.
Update: I received a very nice note from the State Bar of California explaining that it is now a regulatory agency rather than a traditional bar association. The traditional bar association’s functions are now handled by the California Lawyers Association. I have corrected the post above accordingly.