The Santa Ana federal trial of convicted attorney Michael Avenatti, currently set to begin Aug. 17, will be delayed due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to records obtained Friday.
Avenatti’s attorney, in a lengthy brief filed this week, said prosecutors have deluged the defendant with evidence, much of which is difficult to access because of government offices being closed during the pandemic as well as terms of Avenatti’s house arrest, which restricts his use of computers.
The newly filed court papers also spell out in minute detail what the defendant described as his nightmarish experience in the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center before and after his conviction in that state for a $25 million shakedown of Nike.
Last month, Avenatti convinced U.S. District Judge James Selna to release him from the New York jail and let him remain in custody under house arrest in California because of his vulnerability to coronavirus amid an outbreak at the lockup.
Avenatti is also awaiting trial in New York for allegedly cheating adult entertainment star Stormy Daniels out of money owed her. That trial was scheduled for Oct. 13. Avenatti is scheduled to be sentenced in the Nike case on Aug. 19.
The defendant’s request for more time in his Orange County case, in which he is accused stealing several million dollars from clients, also touched on the age and health of his attorney, Dean Steward, who is 68 and has diabetes.
“The government continues to produce vast amounts of data and discovery to the defense, despite the fact that the government has previously and repeatedly represented to the court and counsel that discovery would be complete long ago,” the brief reads.
Prosecutors have turned over 1.1 million pages of discovery.
Selna on Thursday said in court papers that the Avenatti brief “shares many legitimate concerns about proceeding to trial in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He added, “As should be readily apparent to all, the August trial date will need to be continued.”
Selna said he was also “troubled by the government’s production of more than 600,000 pages (of evidence) in May. This is inconsistent with the government’s description of the status of discovery at the last status conference.”
Selna suggested that prosecutors provide a laptop or desktop computer not connection with the Internet that could be used to provide the defendant with electronic evidence.
Selna was also concerned about Steward’s age and health and his inability to meet in person with his client.
Steward told City News Service that the defense has not suggested a new trial date, but would prefer at this point to revisit scheduling of a trial date sometime at the end of August.
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said, “We’ll file a response after reviewing this filing.”
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