Michael Avenatti: Fellow lawyer at the 'heart' of defense

LARRY NEUMEISTER

NEW YORK (AP) — California attorney Michael Avenatti maintained in a court submission Tuesday that prosecutors are trying to block a fellow high-profile lawyer from being presented as an important part of Avenatti's defense against charges he tried to extort millions of dollars from Nike.

Avenatti's defense lawyers said in a written submission that they have subpoenaed Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos for their client's Jan. 22 trial in Manhattan federal court.

Avenatti was arrested earlier this year on charges that he tried to extort up to $25 million from the sportswear giant by threatening to reveal corrupt practices involving college athletes and that he engaged in honest services fraud.

The trial is the first of three Avenatti is scheduled to face in the first five months of 2020. In April, he is scheduled for trial in New York on charges that he cheated former client Stormy Daniels, a porn star, of proceeds from a book deal she signed. And in May, he is scheduled for trial in Los Angeles on charges that he cheated clients of millions of dollars. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Prosecutors did not identify Geragos by name in the case involving Nike, but it was obvious that he was the person referred to in a criminal complaint and indictment as “CC-1” and Avenatti's lawyers said so in their latest filing.

They said Avenatti and Geragos “worked together in concert” even though “only Mr. Avenatti has been prosecuted.” They said Geragos “personally and through his counsel” made it clear during seven “innocence proffers” with prosecutors that he had no criminal intent and that he believed that he and Avenatti were right to insist to Nike that they be hired to conduct an internal investigation of the company.

Avenatti said Geragos and his lawyers also told prosecutors that it was not unusual for an attorney to be paid exponentially more than his client and that meetings with Nike's attorneys were part of a standard negotiation, similar to what occurred when Geragos had represented Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback, against Nike.

Several weeks ago, prosecutors dropped conspiracy charges from the indictment against Avenatti, a move some interpreted as making it clear that Geragos would not be charged.

“As much as the government now seems determined to write Mark Geragos out of this case, Mr. Geragos very much remains a central figure at the very heart of it,” the Avenatti court filing said. “The facts and context of his involvement are of critical importance to Mr. Avenatti’s defense.”

The lawyers said it was Geragos who first reached out to Nike attorneys, saying in a March phone call that he had a matter too “sensitive” to discuss by phone after he'd been shown “some stuff” indicating Nike might have an “Adidas problem.” In two recent trials, the rival shoemaker was mentioned with schools where assistant basketball coaches admitted receiving cash bribes to steer top athletes to certain advisers.

Avenatti's lawyers wrote that even if he does not testify, Avenatti is “entitled to adduce evidence and offer argument that Mr. Geragos’ statements and conduct were plainly indicative of Mr. Geragos’ belief that their joint conduct was lawful and that this belief goes squarely to Mr. Avenatti’s own state of mind.”

The lawyers told the trial judge that prosecutors were trying to block Avenatti from presenting that side of the defense.

Geragos, whose clients also have included Michael Jackson, has not commented. He did not respond to a message Tuesday.

Prosecutors declined comment through a spokesman.