A federal judge in Santa Ana Monday scheduled a hearing for next month to iron out issues related to exchanging evidence in the criminal case against embattled attorney Michael Avenatti.
The 48-year-old Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to a 36-count indictment alleging tax, wire and bank fraud and accusing him of stealing millions of dollars from clients. He has also denied a charge in New York of trying to extort $25 million from Nike by threatening to expose alleged payments by the company to high school basketball players.
U.S. District Judge James Selna set an Aug. 26 hearing on evidentiary issues between Avenatti and federal prosecutors, who are also wrestling with the location of a trial in the embezzlement case against the attorney stemming from his most notable client, adult film actress Stormy Daniels. That case was filed in New York, but Avenatti wants it moved to California, where his attorney, Dean Steward, is based.
A major point of evidentiary contention is a pair of computer servers from Avenatti’s firm, Eagan-Avenatti. A bankruptcy receiver has them but Avenatti wants to access them to prepare his defense.
“The receiver just gave over the servers to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the question is whether they were legally required to do that, and our answer is no,” Steward said.
Avenatti has argued in court papers that he needs access to that evidence to help him defend himself.
Also at issue are four computer devices, including a cell phone, that are encrypted. Federal prosecutors want to access them, but Avenatti will not provide passwords. There are also issues related to attorney-client privilege relating to the devices.
Selna suggested a third party could be authorized to go over the evidence, but it’s an open question what could be accessed by prosecutors.
Prosecutors in Santa Ana pushed for a trial in January, but Steward said he has received a 5-terabyte hard drive which could hold up to 175 million pages of evidence, so he could not be ready for trial by then.
In a joint report to Selna from Avenatti and prosecutors filed July 1, Avenatti raised the issue of a grand jury considering new evidence. Prosecutors said Monday they have no plans at this time to pursue a superseding indictment.
Avenatti, who is also facing discipline from the State Bar of California, will get a chance with his attorney on July 22 to cross-examine one of the alleged victims in his Santa Ana case.
“I am looking forward to a jury passing judgment on my conduct in each case,” Avenatti said. “I will be exonerated and the truth will be known to all about what really happened here.”
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