It’s been a very bad month for the man MSNBC and CNN invited on over a hundred times in just over two months to level his accusations against President Trump. Just two weeks after celebrity lawyer and Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Avenatti was arrested for suspected domestic violence, which he denies and suggested is a right-wing conspiracy, the porn star client who made him famous accused him of having filed a failed defamation lawsuit against her wishes.
“Michael has been a great advocate in many ways,” Stormy Daniels told the Daily Beast Wednesday. “I’m tremendously grateful to him for aggressively representing me in my fight to regain my voice. But in other ways Michael has not treated me with the respect and deference an attorney should show to a client. He has spoken on my behalf without my approval. He filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes. He repeatedly refused to tell me how my legal defense fund was being spent. Now he has launched a new crowdfunding campaign using my face and name without my permission and attributing words to me that I never wrote or said.”
The Daily Beast reached out to professor and legal expert Stephen Gillers of New York University Law School about the implications of Daniels’ claim that Avenatti filed the defamation lawsuit against Trump, which ultimately backfired, against her express wishes. While Avenatti likely wouldn’t be disbarred for such an egregious violation, said Gillers, he could certainly be facing a malpractice lawsuit.
“If he filed the case with her name when it was clear that she told him not to, then he could be sued for that,” Gillers told the Daily Beast. “He could be sued for malpractice. If true, she has a malpractice case against him. I emphasize if true. And if true, he would be subject to discipline but not as serious as disbarment.”
This is not the only potential legal trouble Avenatti faces. The Senate Judiciary Committee has referred Avenatti and another of his high-profile clients, Julie Swetnick, to the Justice Department for “providing false statements, obstructing congressional investigations, and conspiracy” to violate federal law in their allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. The committee also referred Avenatti for investigation for potentially manipulating the claims of another Kavanaugh accuser.
Avenatti gave the Daily Beast a response to Daniels’ bombshell accusations, but while he addressed her accusations that he has abused the crowdfunding campaigns, he didn’t directly address her defamation lawsuit claim, saying only that he has “always been an open book with Stormy as to all aspects of her cases.”
“I am and have always been Stormy’s biggest champion,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “I have personally sacrificed an enormous amount of money, time and energy toward assisting her because I believe in her. I have always been an open book with Stormy as to all aspects of her cases and she knows that. The retention agreement Stormy signed back in February provided that she would pay me $100.00 and that any and all other monies raised via a legal fund would go toward my legal fees and costs. Instead, the vast majority of the money raised has gone toward her security expenses and similar other expenses. The most recent campaign was simply a refresh of the prior campaign, designed to help defray some of Stormy’s expenses.”
When the Daily Beast asked Avenatti about the two active crowdfunding pages for Daniels earlier this week, he said, he “reset the page as the focus of the case changed from when we first launched the site.” Pressed on what exactly that money has been used to fund, he responded: “The money has gone toward the areas identified on the page. For instance, Stormy’s security detail has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially due to the high level of death threats. The other out-of-pocket costs of the litigation are also extraordinary (and I’m not speaking of attorneys’ fees). Trump and Cohen have spent millions in their defense.” He told the outlet that he hasn’t received a cent for attorneys’ fees, which he values at over $1.5 million.
The public falling out between Avenatti and Daniels began shortly after he was arrested two weeks ago on suspicion of felony domestic violence, charges Avenatti denies and which the L.A. DA has since chosen not to pursue, instead referring the case to the city attorney’s office.
“These are serious and obviously very troubling allegations, but right now that is all they are: allegations,” Daniels said in a statement reported by New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi a day after Avenatti made bail. “We should all reserve judgment until the investigation—an investigation Michael has said he welcomes—is complete, and that’s what I’m going to do. But of course I do not condone violence against women and if these allegations prove true I will be seeking new representation.”
This article has been revised to provide more details about the Senate Judiciary Committee’s actions against Avenatti.