Judge Moves Avenatti's Trial Due to COVID-19


SANTA ANA (CNS) - A federal judge today put off convicted attorney Michael Avenatti's trial in Santa Ana until August because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The attorney representing Avenatti filed a motion Thursday seeking bail so he can get out of jail in Manhattan while awaiting another trial in New York and then a third one in Orange County.

Avenatti argues his compromised health from pneumonia around the holidays makes him more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Avenatti's attorney, Dean Steward, notes in the motion that cases of coronavrius is “alarmingly” on the rise in New York City, and that “chillingly” the Metropolitan Correction Center, where Avenatti is housed, has recorded its first case of COVID-19.

Avenatti is seeking to restore $300,000 bail signed off on by a longtime friend, Hugh Bromma of San Francisco, a chief executive officer of a major investment advisory firm.

Avenatti would reside in a halfway house in Orange or Los Angeles counties under the terms of the bail, according to the motion. Any transactions over $1,000 would have to be approved by authorities who oversee defendants in and out of custody.

Avenatti would only be allowed to travel to and from New York for court appearances.

Avenatti “is more at risk than most, as he had pneumonia late last year,” according to the motion.

“The MCC where he is being held has its first COVID-19 case, and the potential for true disaster and wholesale death from the virus is enormous,” the motion reads.

U.S. District Judge James Selna moved Avenatti's trial in Santa Ana from May 19 to Aug. 18, because no trials are being held during the coronavirus emergency.

Steward argued he needs more time to prepare for trial, but federal prosecutors, while agreeing to the delay in Avenatti's trial, said they only did so because of the coronavirus emergency and argued the defendant has had enough time to prepare for trial and should not get another continuance in August.

Prosecutors have not responded to the motion for new bail. They have a deadline of noon Friday to respond.

Selna, who rejected Avenatti's bid for bail last week, decided this week to reconsider his ruling.

“In light of the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the greater New York City area, the court invites Avenatti to apply ex parte for reconsideration” of the court's denial of bail this past weekend, U.S. District Court Judge James Selna said in his order.

“The main thing he is looking for under the bail reform act is there is a catch-all that you can be released for compelling reasons,” Steward told City News Service on Wednesday.

“The problem is the compelling reasons are medical problems for the defendant or a family member, things like that. You would think there would be good grounds for release, but there's never been one for COVID-19.”

Steward said there is no legal precedent “that is even close” to bail amid a pandemic. There have been a couple of cases ruled on in New York recently regarding coronavirus, but those were handed down on the district level and not from an appellate court, which would establish precedence, he said.

In one of those cases bail was granted and in the other it was denied, Steward said.

Selna wants to know if there is “another compelling reason” to release Avenatti and he wants to know where the defendant would theoretically reside under a proposed house arrest, Steward said.

“It's just like he was arrested fresh and we're trying to make the bail arrangements,” the defense attorney said.

Avenatti has been emailing his attorneys about living conditions at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“He's very concerned,” Steward said. “We receive a lot of email from him describing someone in his unit who has tested positive, so he's really concerned about catching this and soon, which lends a lot of urgency to what I'm doing.”

Avenatti's cellmate fell ill to the flu, but Steward has not been able to find out if that inmate tested positive for coronavirus.

Avenatti was convicted in New York in February of attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike. He's due to go on trial next month in New York in a case involving allegations that he ripped off former client Stormy Daniels. It was his representation of the adult film star in a nondisclosure agreement issue with President Donald Trump catapulted the attorney to fame.

Avenatti has been in custody since January, when prosecutors in Santa Ana alleged he was engaging in a scheme to keep a step ahead of his various creditors while out on bail.

Photo: Getty Images

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