Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti on Tuesday won court permission to represent himself as he defends against criminal charges that he stole from adult film star Stormy Daniels, who hired him for lawsuits she filed against former U.S. President Donald Trump.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman approved Avenatti’s request on the second day of the trial.
Prosecutors have accused Avenatti of embezzling nearly $300,000 in book proceeds intended for Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford. Avenatti has pleaded not guilty to two counts of wire fraud and identity theft.
Avenatti, 50, had been represented by Robert Baum and Andrew Dalack of the Federal Defenders of New York, a nonprofit that represents people who cannot afford their own lawyers.
“There has been a breakdown in the relationship between me and my counsel that goes to the heart of my ability to mount a defense,” Avenatti told the judge outside jurors’ presence.
Furman granted the request after warning Avenatti about the “dangers and disadvantages” of self-representation.
Avenatti’s decision puts him in the unusual position of being able to cross-examine his former client Daniels after she testifies against him as a prosecution witness, likely this week.
Avenatti represented himself last year when defending against charges in a federal court in California that he stole millions of dollars from several other clients. That case ended in a mistrial after the judge said prosecutors had failed to turn over relevant evidence. read more
Daniels is known for receiving $130,000 of hush money from Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in exchange for not disclosing prior to the 2016 presidential election her alleged sexual liaison with Trump.
Avenatti later represented Daniels in a successful bid to throw out her non-disclosure agreement. Trump has denied that there was an affair.
The trial is the latest in a slew of legal troubles for Avenatti, who in 2018 became a cable TV fixture and prominent Trump critic while representing Daniels.
He lost his platform in March 2019 when he was charged with trying to extort Nike Inc out of as much as $25 million. Avenatti is appealing his conviction and a 2-1/2-year prison term in that case.