A day before pools of prospective jurors were to report for the trial of convicted Orange County attorney Michael Avenatti his attorneys asked for a delay in the trial until Oct. 12 due to publicity from his 2 1/2-year sentence in the Nike extortion case in New York.
Attorneys in the case were expecting to begin opening statements and testimony in the trial next week.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe sentenced Avenatti on Thursday to 30 months in federal prison for attempting to extort as much as $25 million from the shoe manufacturer giant.
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 their availability for a trial.
On Friday, the jurors were expected to be questioned by attorneys and U.S. District Judge James Selna and continue through July 20 when opening statements in the trial were scheduled to begin.
Avenatti attempted to have sentencing in the Nike case continued until after the trial in Santa Ana, but that was denied, Avenatti’s attorney, Dean Steward said.
In the request to delay the trial in Orange County, Steward said federal prosecutors issued an “inflammatory” news release that was “highly critical of Mr. Avenatti.”
Steward said the comments in the news release and on social media “constitutes a significant and purposeful interference with Mr. Avenatti’s constitutional rights, including his right to due process and a fair trial under the Sixth and 14th amendments.”
Steward said news of his client’s punishment “went viral” immediately after the government issued its news releases.
On the day he was sentenced for the Nike case, Avenatti “was the number nine highest trending search on Google in the entire United States,” Steward said in the court papers. That trend has not slowed since then, he argued.
Avenatti has drawn particular attention from the Fox News Channel, Steward said.
“Because of Mr. Avenatti’s role as a staunch and outspoken critic of former President (Donald) Trump and his feud with Fox News, which began in early 2018 when the network began calling Mr. Avenatti the `Creepy Porn Lawyer,’ Fox News in particular has made it a point over the last four days to repeatedly broadcast details of Mr. Avenatti’s conviction and prison sentence, gloat and mock him to their millions of viewers, including in Orange County,” Steward said in the court papers.
“These broadcasts repeatedly referred to Mr. Avenatti as a `slimeball,’ `total fraud,’ `shady hustler,’ and also references to his upcoming trial such as `he had already allegedly (in air quotes) stolen money from his clients.’ ”
Steward also noted that Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., posted a video on social media ridiculing Avenatti’s prison sentence.
The ex-president also added a “longwinded attack aimed at Mr. Avenatti’ while at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Steward said.
Steward argued the delay was needed “to allow the negative and massive publicity, and the prejudice to Mr. Avenatti, to abate.”
Steward said federal prosecutors object to any delay and noted that the sentence in the Nike case will be among the questions asked of prospective jurors to weigh their ability to consider the evidence objectively.
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