A federal judge in Santa Ana has denied convicted attorney Michael Avenatti’s request to be released on bail, after Avenatti argued he is especially vulnerable to the coronavirus while awaiting trial in custody in New York.
“We are deeply disappointed,” Avenatti’s attorney Dean Steward said Saturday.
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.
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, fell 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.”
On Saturday, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna denied Avenatti’s request.
“The Court is mindful of the Covid 19 pandemic,” Selna wrote. “The Court accepts Avenatti’s showing that the had pneumonia about six months ago. However, there is no showing that his cell mate was infected by the virus, and there have been no reported cases of Covid 19 at the New York MCC.2 As the Government points out, much of Avenatti’s criticism about the facility relate to a different facility in Brooklyn. There is no basis to release Avenatti on medical grounds.”
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 did 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.
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