Avenatti weighs representing himself against Stormy Daniels

Once-prominent California attorney Michael Avenatti tried Tuesday to interrupt his trial over whether he stole money from porn star Stormy Daniels to consider formally asking to represent himself, but the judge refused to delay the proceeding and said the right to self-representation is diminished once a trial begins.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman gave Avenatti time during the lunch break in his Manhattan trial on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges to discuss the possibility with his lawyers.

Avenatti, 50, has vehemently asserted his innocence on the claims that he pocketed nearly $300,000 of the $800,000 advance paid to Daniels for her 2018 book “Full Disclosure.”

When Avenatti stood to try to speak about representing himself, Furman cut him off.

“Mr. Avenatti, please have a seat,” Furman directed. “I’m not taking it up right now.”

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

When the jury broke for lunch, Furman said Avenatti’s right to represent himself was “sharply curtailed” once his trial began. The judge said he would be required to weigh the status of the proceeding and the effect a change in representation would have on it if Avenatti formally requested to represent himself.

The judge said that if Avenatti chose to do so, he would not take up the issue until the end of the day.

In early 2020, Avenatti was convicted of trying to extort up to $25 million from sportswear giant Nike by threatening to tarnish the company’s reputation if it didn’t meet his demands. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. At that trial, he did not testify 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. Daniels had received $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election to remain silent about her claims that she’d had a sexual tryst with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied it happened.

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

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

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

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 span.

“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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