A federal judge in Santa Ana Tuesday gave attorney Michael Avenatti about a week to either find a new attorney to represent him in his Orange County criminal case or to decide if he needs a public defender or wishes to represent himself.
Avenatti told reporters after the hearing that he expected to hire new attorneys by the deadline of May 15 when he is scheduled to return to court to tell U.S. District Judge James Selna how he has decided to go forward with his legal representation.
“First of all, I’ve never asked for appointment of the federal public defender either in New York or in California for the purposes of trial and I do not anticipate doing so,” Avenatti said.
“I anticipate having my private counsel confirmed and in place within the next seven to eight court days, which should alleviate any issues relating to my representation,” Avenatti said. “I’m very fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of attorneys from around the country who have offered to represent me both here and in New York, which I have been flattered by.”
Federal prosecutors on Monday asked Selna to appoint a lawyer for Avenatti after he signaled he would change legal representation. He is facing charges of embezzlement and bank and tax fraud.
Prosecutors wanted 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 were also skeptical Avenatti required 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 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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