Judge orders release of Avenatti financial information

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge on Tuesday ordered the public disclosure of financial information Michael Avenatti provided to qualify for publicly funded lawyers to defend him against charges he defrauded porn star Stormy Daniels.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman in Manhattan said the common law and First Amendment rights of public access to judicial documents require that the information be unsealed.

“There are no countervailing factors or higher values sufficient to outweigh the public’s right to access the documents,” the judge wrote.

Avenatti, 50, faces trial early next year in New York on charges that he cheated Daniels of hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds for her book. Avenatti gained a high public profile as a lawyer who appeared regularly on cable television programs when he represented Daniels in 2018 in lawsuits against then-President Donald Trump.

Avenatti currently is representing himself at a federal criminal trial in Los Angeles, where he is charged with cheating several clients out of nearly $10 million. During opening statements last week, Avenatti told jurors that he did not embezzle funds but instead recouped expenses after negotiating settlements in legal proceedings.

Earlier this month, he was sentenced in New York to 2 1/2 years in prison for trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening the apparel giant with bad publicity.

In the case involving the book deal for Daniels, whose birth name is Stephanie Clifford, Avenatti initially was represented by private counsel when he was arrested in spring 2019, but he applied for a court-order appointing the Federal Defenders of New York to represent him.

The request was granted last August and Avenatti was required to provide updated financial information every few months to prove he was still eligible for appointed lawyers.

Initially, Avenatti was granted a request that the financial information he submitted be sealed temporarily. As the judge considered whether to keep the information sealed, he received submissions from the Inner City Press, a media outlet which sought disclosure, and documents from attorneys in the case.

Furman said he rejected Avenatti’s argument that his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination requires sealing so that his statements in his financial affidavit cannot be “weaponized against him” when prosecutors learn what was said.

The judge noted that Avenatti’s lawyers pointed out that prosecutors had already aggressively used his financial condition against him in the Nike trial, which ended with conviction in early 2020.

“Far from supporting Avenatti’s argument, that fact undermines it. That is, as Avenatti himself concedes, the Government already has ample evidence that he ‘is millions of dollars in debt,’” Furman wrote.

Before the documents are released, Avenatti has until Aug. 10 to propose redactions of such things as financial account numbers and the identities of children.

Lawyers for Avenatti declined comment.

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