Attorney Michael Avenatti is scheduled to appear in a Santa Ana federal courtroom Tuesday to discuss his legal representation in his Orange County criminal case.
Federal prosecutors on Monday asked a federal judge to appoint a lawyer for Avenatti after he signaled he may change legal representation. He is facing charges of embezzlement and bank and tax fraud.
Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge James Selna to order Avenatti to fill out a financial affidavit and for the judge to immediately appoint an attorney for the defendant and, “if appropriate, order defendant to contribute some or all of the costs of his representation.”
In a motion filed Monday, federal prosecutors said they have “received no notice or other information indicating that defendant has retained counsel or otherwise resolved his representation issues.”
At Avenatti’s arraignment, he initially appeared without an attorney, so Amy Karlin, the head of the Public Defender’s Office in the Central District of California, was assigned as his legal representative. Avenatti had been represented by the Bienert Katzman firm, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors say they do “not believe that there is any valid reason why defendant has yet to resolve his representation issues and is concerned that defendant will seek to use such issues to unnecessarily delay this prosecution.”
The prosecutors added that with a trial date set in a month “it is critical that defendant be represented by counsel immediately so that this prosecution can proceed in a timely and appropriate fashion.”
The prosecutors further argued that “there is a strong public interest in ensuring that this case proceed to trial as soon as possible. The indictment alleges that the victims of the wire fraud counts in this case have lost millions of dollars as a result of defendant’s fraudulent conduct… Indeed, one of defendant’s alleged victims… had been dependent on defendant for basic living expenses for the last four years and recently lost his Supplemental Security Insurance benefits as a result of defendant’s conduct.”
Delays in Orange County could also hamper efforts to move forward with Avenatti’s criminal case in New York, where he is charged with extorting the athletic apparel company Nike, as well as the efforts by his former law partners to collect on a $10 million court-ordered payment.
The Santa Ana federal prosecutors say they understand that Avenatti “has not yet retained counsel to represent him” in New York either.
Federal prosecutors are also skeptical Avenatti requires legal counsel at no cost.
“Defendant also appears to have the financial wherewithal to retain counsel,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant is currently represented by retained counsel in other litigation matters.”
Avenatti also “recently stated in a nationally televised interview on CNN that he is `not broke,’ and is not having any money problems,” the prosecutors wrote.
“The government also understands that as recently as April 2019 defendant was renting a luxury condominium for approximately $11,000 per month,” the prosecutors wrote.
The prosecutors also cited one of Avenatti’s recently tweets saying he would be “severely limiting my tweets regarding either criminal case,” adding, “I am very fortunate to have some of the best lawyers in America advising me.”
Avenatti’s “failure to retain counsel (so far)… would appear to signify that defendant either does not have the resources to obtain counsel, or is not retaining counsel for purposes of delay,” the prosecutors wrote.
The prosecutors alleged that Avenatti has a “pattern and practice of using delay tactics to avoid responsibility for his conduct.”
The prosecutors said Avenatti in March filed a bankruptcy petition on behalf of his law firm, which they alleged was done to delay a hearing. Avenatti did not have the authority to file for bankruptcy because in February a receiver was placed in control of his firm’s business affairs, so a federal bankruptcy judge dismissed the filing, the prosecutors said.
A hearing on whether Avenatti should be sanctioned for the bankruptcy filing is set for Wednesday.
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