Convicted attorney Michael Avenatti Wednesday applied to a federal judge in Santa Ana for release on bail, arguing he is especially vulnerable to the coronavirus while awaiting trial in custody in New York.
Avenatti was convicted in New York in February of attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike. He has been in custody since January, when prosecutors in Santa Ana alleged he was engaging in a scheme to keep a step ahead of his various creditors while out on bail.
Avenatti’s attorney, Dean Steward, said his client contracted pneumonia around Christmas while he was out of custody, but he has since recovered. Avenatti’s New York cellmate, however, has fallen ill and appeared to have symptoms similar to COVID-19, according to Steward, who said the man has not been tested as far as his client knows.
“He’s more vulnerable than everybody else for that reason,” Steward said, referring to his client’s bout of pneumonia and exposure to someone who potentially has the virus.
“We’ll never find out if he tested positive” because of federal laws guaranteeing the privacy of some patients. “And the Bureau of Prisons is so secretive about that.”
Avenatti is scheduled to go on trial May 19 in Santa Ana, but he is supposed to go on trial before that in a New York case involving allegations that he ripped off adult film actress Stormy Daniels, the client he once represented that catapulted him to fame in a nondisclosure agreement issue with President Donald Trump.
Steward said he plans to file a motion on Thursday requesting a continuance. The attorney does not believe Avenatti’s status as a convict should play a role in whether he can be released on bail.
“The deal is he would be released there, comes here and goes into house arrest and that way he can still prepare for the trial from here, and he would have to get permission from the court to travel back there for trial,” Steward said.
Steward described Dickensian conditions in the jail in New York City where Avenatti is housed. He said the facility has poor or no medical care, toilets that do not work and is infested with rats.