I presume you’ve seen the cartoon above before, which is admittedly a cynical view of the legal process, but all too true, nevertheless? I propose that we revise this cartoon to reflect the Michael Avenatti definition of “pro bono.” If there’s an artist in the house reading this, would you mind penning an image of Avenatti, social justice warrior, wearing a halo, and bragging about how Stormy Daniels has only paid him $100.00 for the “millions” in legal advice which he has purportedly given her — while a small army of farmers with shovels and plows, create piles marked “Publicity!” “Payroll!” “Ferrari Payments!” and everything else that Avenatti ripped Daniels off for, to the tune of $300,000 — so far. That’s a cartoon that will sell, I would get right on it, if I were you.
Wednesday, California lawyer and once-seeker of the Democratic party’s nomination for president, Michael Avenatti, was indicted twice in New York, one separate indictment for his alleged extortion of Nike and another for allegedly defrauding his former client, Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti and Daniels severed their professional relationship in February, and the court documents do not mention her by name, although the details of the case make it plain that it’s Daniels that is being spoken of. And Avenatti has admitted that one charge is related to Daniels — while of course he categorically denies all charges, and tweets that he looks forward to his day in court and full exoneration. Is there an echo in this room, or does he remind you of anybody we know? The Hill:
The funds were also allegedly used “to make payments to individuals with whom Avenatti had personal relationships, to make a luxury car payment, and to pay for hotels, airfare, meals, car services, and dry cleaning.”
When the then-client asked Avenatti about when her advance for the book deal was arriving, Avenatti allegedly “repeatedly lied … including by stating that he was working on getting the fees from [their] publisher, when, in truth and in fact, Avenatti had already received the fees and spent them on his own personal and professional expenses.” [..]
Avenatti allegedly told the agent involved in the book deal, without his client’s knowledge, that the agent should send a payment for the book to a bank account under his control.
After the agent told Avenatti that the payment couldn’t be sent to that account, Avenatti sent a letter with a forged signature stating that the payment should be sent to the lawyer’s bank account.
The former client allegedly and repeatedly asked Avenatti about the payment from October 2018 through February 2019, to which the document says he “fraudulently stated … that Publisher-1 was withholding payment.” […]
The client later got in touch with the publisher herself and discovered that the payment had already been sent.
Now, I would have given anything to have been a fly on the wall when THAT conversation between Daniels and Avenatti took place, when she realized how she had been screwed.
Avenatti’s other indictment, the one involving Nike, is also severe. Avenatti allegedly attempted to extort $1.5Mil from Nike by threatening to hold a press conference on the eve of the company’s quarterly earnings report, “to unveil allegations of misconduct by Nike staffers.” The severity I speak of, is that Nike said in a statement that Avenatti threatened to use his “ability to garner publicity” to inflict “reputational damage” on Nike. If true, that means Avenatti was threatening to use his then-credibility to extort money from Nike.
Wow. Larceny, fraud, extortion, forgery (even Trump hasn’t been charged with that one, last I knew, but then he can barely write his own name) — short of calling himself Rocko and dangling somebody off the Hilton’s 20th story balcony, Avenatti’s done it all — if these charges are true.
And one thing I can tell you, having known two Los Angeles lawyers who were disbarred — and for charges that would fit in a gnat’s navel, compared to these — the bright red line for the State Bar of California, is stealing money. Once they prove that, you can kiss the license goodbye. Even petty larceny (one of the lawyers I knew took $150 she wasn’t entitled to) co-mingling of funds, anything to do with money, and it’s over. That’s their definition of moral turpitude, stealing from your clients. Any breach of fiduciary duty is bad, but stealing money is the ultimate no no.
And the two lawyers I knew had to do full restitution of the money taken (and again, it was a cup of water, compared to the ocean of theft being alleged here) to keep themselves out of the House of Many Doors.
It is tragic, to consider where Avenatti started out and where he is now. Avenatti was a gifted young man and did himself proud. He came from a working class background and went to law school, graduating valedictorian from George Washington School of Law in 2000. While there, he worked with noted legal scholar Johnathan Turley on constitutional issues relating to FISA and had other achievements.
In 2003, George Washington University Law School established the Michael J. Avenatti Award for Excellence in Pre-Trial and Trial Advocacy, an annual award given to the member of the graduating Juris Doctor class who demonstrates excellence in pre-trial and trial advocacy. Avenatti also received George Washington University’s prestigious Alumni Recognition Award in 2010.
Now all that’s in the s**ter. I personally used to like the man because of the way that he gave it to Trump with both barrels. Many people felt that way. Avenatti’s rise to celebrity attorney was meteoric — and evidently went to his head, because he threw his hat in the ring for president, apparently thinking that his lavish lifestyle, financed at least in part by not paying taxes and by ripping off landlords, would not get noticed. It did, in what Avenatti characterized as a “hit piece” and the tide of public sentiment turned. Then, presenting his client, Julie Swetnick, at the Kavanaugh hearing, backfired. That was the last straw and Democrats openly turned on him. That should have been Avenatti’s wake up call, to amend his ways, but instead he doubled down, and began defending his methods, and that’s when he was perceived by Democrats as more of a liability than an asset.
THIS is why Democrats did NOT want Michael Avenatti to get involved in this fight. Collins is specifically citing Swetnick's "gang rape" accusation as something that made her think she needed to give Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt.
— Rachael Bade (@rachaelmbade) October 5, 2018
So, what does Avenatti say now? When it’s way way too late to recover lost ground? Politico:
“I have said many, many times over the last year, this is either going to end really, really well, or really, really badly. I am most fearful of the fact that the rate of descent is greater than the rate of ascent,” Avenatti told Vanity Fair. “Some would argue at this point that I flew too close to the sun. As I sit here today, yes, absolutely, I know I did. No question. Icarus.”
“I couldn’t believe how unbelievably great everything was,” Avenatti told Vanity Fair. “Now, there are days when I can’t believe what a nightmare this is.”
Mea culpas always play well. Everybody loves a repentant sinner. But Avenatti did a lot more than just fly a little too close to the sun. It pains me to say it, but it’s obvious: one of the chief characteristics of a narcissistic personality is to do something wrong just to see if you can get away with it, and he tried to get away with a hell of a lot. Avenatti displays a pattern of dishonesty and exploitation of his clients, going way back — he even withheld settlement money from a paraplegic man. How low is that? Avenatti didn’t get here overnight. Vanity Fair:
…federal prosecutors in Los Angeles filed a 197-page complaint accusing him of wire and bank fraud, in which the office detailed allegations of Avenatti misappropriating client settlement money for personal use (the receipts were gaudy: $216,720 to a Neiman Marcus, six figures to a Porsche dealership, and $68,500 at a luxury watch store). The complaint also claimed that Avenatti defrauded a bank by submitting false tax returns in order to obtain millions of dollars in loans. A few weeks later, on April 11, federal officials in California handed down a 36-count indictment, including 19 tax-related charges, 10 counts of wire fraud, 4 counts of bankruptcy fraud, and 2 bank-fraud charges. Avenatti had “[taken] money from one scheme and [used] it to lull clients, to string them along, to prevent them from going to authorities and [took] money from different pots as needed.” One such client was a paraplegic man who had reached a $4 million agreement to settle a case related to his injuries but had not received the money. Avenatti allegedly deposited some of the settlement into a personal account associated with his car-racing team.
You don’t take money from a crippled man and use it for your race car toys. This level of narcissism and moral turpitude rises, not just to the criminal, but to the unconscionable and sociopathic — just like Trump. And Avenatti had an eye on the White House and the public coffers — just like Trump.
Let all this serve as a warning to those who would back a populist outsider for the highest office in the land. At the very least, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. Vote for somebody with a track record in public service, not for some charismatic grifter looking for a new score.
The tragic part of this is that Avenatti “could have been a contender” like Terry Malloy in “On The Waterfront.” If he’d taken a different path, or just stayed on the path he was on in law school, working with Johnathan Turley, he could have gone into politics, and perhaps legitimately run for president one day. He had the brains, drive, work ethic, moxie, and certainly no lack of personal charm or charisma. What he lacks is character. In the end, narcissism and greed won out. Michael Avenatti is a classic protagonist from Greek tragedy, his character defects, in the end, have proven his undoing.
Avenatti’s best shot now is to write a compelling memoir. God knows he’ll have the time. Whether anybody wants to read it, or if the group mind of the public will just conclude that Avenatti’s a sleaze like Trump, and simply forget about him, remains to be seen. Personally, I hate waste and it chagrins me to see a squandering of potential like this, when the man could have done great things, if he wasn’t such a materialist, seeking money and the limelight above all else. Like Trump, money and fame are it. Although in fairness to Avenatti, he was motivated to achieve at some point — perhaps as a means to the end of money and fame? We’ll never know. And maybe that’s the real story here, that characters like Trump and Avenatti are more a reflection on how debased the values of our culture have become. Maybe the problem is more a culture that exalts the material and the shallow over substance, that is the problem, rather than the men themselves. That philosophical quandary notwithstanding, all I know is this: I don’t want to see another one of these guys within a stone’s throw of a major party ticket, let alone at the top of it.