A Santa Ana federal judge Monday set a mid-May trial date for embattled attorney Michael Avenatti, who’s accused of defrauding clients and failing to pay taxes, and also shot down the defendant’s request to full access to computer records seized by authorities.
U.S. District Judge James Selna rejected Avenatti’s request to access computers from his former law firm that he turned over to a bankruptcy receiver, who complied with a search warrant from federal investigators.
That prompted Avenatti’s attorney, Dean Steward, to request that an expert be allowed to make a copy of the records for his client.
“In other words, you want the court to approve your motion in toto,” Selna replied. “Did you really read the tentative (ruling)?”
Steward replied that he didn’t see how it would harm the government’s case in any way.
“This is not a civil discovery motion,” Selna said, citing the rules in a criminal case that narrow the prosecution’s requirements to turn over evidence.
“You may have other avenues of recourse, not here,” Selna said.
Steward said after the hearing that he would discuss those options with his 48-year-old client, which could include a civil suit or accessing the computers in his separate divorce case.
In his tentative ruling, Selna noted that Avenatti had not accepted an offer from federal prosecutors to review the computer records under government supervision to see what the defense would need in their case.
Both sides also skirmished over when to have Avenatti’s Orange County case go to trial.
Avenatti was indicted in April for allegedly defrauding clients and failing to pay personal taxes, as well as payroll and other taxes from his ownership of a coffee shop business. Before he was indicted, Avenatti agreed in a bankruptcy proceeding to turn over property from Eagan Avenatti LLP.
Steward said he has back-to-back trials coming up and would not be ready for trial until June, but federal prosecutors maintained that Avenatti has already received much of the relevant evidence he needs and should be ready to go to trial in February.
In the end, Selna set a May 19 trial date. Another status hearing is set for Sept. 18.
Avenatti faces another case in New York, in which he’s accused of trying to extort $25 million from Nike by threatening to expose alleged payments by the shoe company in the recruitment of college basketball players.
Steward is also attempting to have the fraud case related to former client adult film star Stormy Daniels transferred out of New York to Santa Ana. Avenatti is accused of misappropriating nearly $300,000 from Daniels as he represented her in her attempts to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement she signed over her claim of an affair with President Donald Trump.
Federal prosecutors in New York oppose a transfer of Daniels’ case from New York to Santa Ana, Steward told Selna.
Steward argued in a motion filed last week that the cases are similar to the ones in California and that the Daniels case should be moved to Orange County or else the defendant “will have to defend himself in largely identical actions brought on opposite ends of the United States while paying for his and his attorneys’ living and travel expenses.”
Avenatti’s legal advocacy for Daniels in the dispute with Trump regarding a nondisclosure agreement is what vaulted the attorney into the public eye.
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