Michael Avenatti: Mouthpiece for Stormy Daniels, Media Darling…and Rebel with a First Amendment Cause!

screenshot of attorney Michael Avenatti during a May 9, 2018, interview on the MSNBC news program 'Morning Joe'
Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels and badass First Amendment agitator (YouTube screenshot)
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who represents adult-film star Stormy Daniels in her dispute with President Donald Trump, can now add "First Amendment aficionado" to his résumé

Attorney Michael Avenatti, the media darling who represents adult-film star Stormy Daniels, came out swinging yesterday in a federal court filing in New York. In the filing, Avenatti contends that his recent disclosure of financial records pertaining to President Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen is protected under the First Amendment.

Avenatti’s conflict with Cohen has its roots in a nondisclosure agreement Stormy Daniels (née Stephanie Clifford) signed shortly before the 2016 presidential election that prevents her from talking about an alleged affair she had with Trump during a celebrity golf tournament more than a decade ago.

On April 9, the FBI raided Cohen’s office and seized records — including, according to Avenatti, documents that trace the $130,000 his client received in exchange for her promise to keep quiet about Trump.

Last week, Avenatti sent U.S. media outlets scrambling when he revealed that Cohen had set up a shell corporation through which he received large sums of money from various companies and individuals soon after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. The money, which included  payments totaling $200,000 from  AT&T, $399,920 from the Swiss drug company Novartis, and $500,000 from a firm tied to a Russian billionaire who was recently sanctioned by the U.S. government, was paid to Essential Consultants LLC.

color headshot of Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney
Michael Cohen, attorney for President Donald Trump (IowaPolitics.com via Flickr)

In response to the revelations, AT&T, Novartis, and other companies released statements confirming that they’d entered into agreements with Essential Consultants. All were vague about what Cohen’s consulting firm was to provide in return.

What did any of that have to do with Michael Avenatti?

The attorney said Essential Consultants LLC is the company that paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet.

Another intriguing connection: Avenatti claimed that Essential Consultants received $187,500 from Elliott Broidy, a former deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Broidy, you might recall, made news when the Wall Street Journal reported that he’d entered into a nondisclosure agreement with a former Playboy model that was strikingly similar to the one Stormy Daniels signed — right down to the pseudonyms used for the principals, “David Dennison” and “Peggy Peterson.” (Do you like conspiracy theories? Here’s a tasty one.)

All caught up? Good!

In response to the Essential Consultants bombshell, Cohen’s attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood to deny Avenatti’s request to represent Daniels in court.

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The request is based on a technicality: Avenatti, whose practice is based in Los Angeles, is not licensed to practice law in New York State and would therefore have to be permitted to represent Daniels pro hac vice.

In a letter to Judge Wood, Cohen’s lawyers argued that Avenatti’s disclosures regarding Essential Consultants “contained numerous incorrect statements,” and that he should not be allowed to represent her in court.

In his response, Avenatti fired back with both barrels:

Mr. Cohen’s submission does not specify what legal wrong Mr. Cohen alleges was done that would justify the extraordinary remedy of denying a pro hac vice admission — applications that are routinely granted as a matter of course. And remarkably, he fails to cite any legal authority that would support the denial of pro hac vice admission. In fact, Mr. Cohen does not cite the Court to any legal authority at all. Indeed, Mr. Avenatti is clearly protected by First Amendment rights of free speech to publish information on matters that, without serious dispute, are of the utmost public concern. See, e.g., Lane v. Franks, 134 S. Ct. 2369, 2377 (2014) (“Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the First Amendment, which ‘was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.’”) (quoting Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476, 484(1957)). Therefore, Mr. Cohen’s submission is completely devoid of merit.

In fact, in less than 48 hours after it was published, more than 99 percent of the payments to Mr. Cohen listed in the report were proven accurate either by other reporting or by the entities themselves that made the payments….

Michael Cohen and his attorneys might not like Avenatti’s loudmouth approach, and other disinterested observers have begun to question whether his tactics are in the best interests of his client.

But there don’t appear to be any cracks in the foundation of his First Amendment argument.

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About Tom Finkel

Skeptical about nearly everything but my rights and responsibilities. Former editor-in-chief at Village Voice, Riverfront Times, & City Pages. Before that, Miami New Times. Interested human being.

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