After a federal judge in New York Thursday sentenced convicted Orange County attorney Michael Avenatti to 2 1/2 years in federal prison for a Nike extortion case there, the defendant boarded a plan to return to Santa Ana to face trial again on charges of cheating his clients out of settlement money.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe handed down a lighter-than-expected sentence for attempting to extort as much as $25 million from the shoe manufacturer giant. Federal prosecutors in New York sought up to 11 years in prison, Avenatti’s Orange County attorney Dean Steward told City News Service. A probation official recommended seven years, Steward said.
Jurors in groups of 75 will be brought to the federal courthouse in Santa Ana on Tuesday and Wednesday to fill out questionnaires regarding their feelings about Avenatti and availability for a trial, Steward said.
“We expect a fair amount to say they can’t do it because of who he is,” Steward said, referring to the notoriety of Avenatti, who launched himself into the public eye representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a dispute over a nondisclosure agreement with former President Donald Trump, who she alleged she had an affair with, a claim the ex-president denies.
The jurors in the Santa Ana trial will be questioned by attorneys and U.S. District Judge James Selna next week after attorneys are able to go over the questionnaires, Steward said. That could begin July 16 and continue through July 20, when opening statements in the trial were scheduled to begin, Steward said.
At a hearing on June 28, Selna said he wanted to give the pools of hundreds of prospective jurors a few days for the “market to absorb the news” of Avenatti’s punishment in the Nike case before attorneys begin questioning them about their availability to hear evidence.
In the Santa Ana case, Avenatti is accused of cheating clients out of settlement money to pay his bills as expenses overwhelmed his profits.
If convicted in Santa Ana, he faces a similar sentence as the Nike case of a maximum of between 10 to 12 years, Steward said.
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