Michael Avenatti stuck in jail after judge sets tough bail terms

Michael Finnegan
Los Angeles attorney Michael Avenatti, who was convicted of extortion in February and is awaiting trial in two other criminal cases, asked a judge to release him from jail to protect him from the coronavirus.  (Peter Foley / EPA/Shutterstock)

A federal judge has effectively turned down a request by Los Angeles lawyer Michael Avenatti to be released from a New York jail where three inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Avenatti's attorney.

Judge James V. Selna of U.S. District Court in Santa Ana said Avenatti, a former lawyer for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, poses "a danger to the community" and should not be set free unless he can post a $1-million bond secured by $500,000 in real estate or other "hard assets."

"I have an ultimate duty to protect the public here," Selna said Tuesday in a court hearing conducted by telephone because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Frankly, your honor, we can't meet this," said H. Dean Steward, Avenatti's lawyer.

Avenatti was convicted of three felonies in February for trying to extort more than $20 million from Nike. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June. A few weeks later, he is set to be tried in New York on federal charges of stealing money from Daniels.

Avenatti is also awaiting trial in California on federal charges of fraud, failure to pay taxes and other financial crimes. Prosecutors say he stole millions of dollars from five clients.

Selna revoked Avenatti's bail in January after finding that he'd apparently broken fraud and money-laundering laws after his arrest in March 2019. Avenatti is being detained at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. In his request to be set free for 90 days, Avenatti said he had pneumonia six months ago and was susceptible to catching the virus from other inmates.

At the hearing on Tuesday, Selna was skeptical of Avenatti's proposal to fly to California for 90 days of detention at the home of his friend Jay Manheimer.

"I'm not comfortable in having Mr. Avenatti at any point travel unaccompanied on his return to California," Selna said.

Avenatti is part of a growing group of high-profile inmates, including comedian Bill Cosby, financier Bernie Madoff and singer R. Kelly, who say they should be released to protect them from COVID-19 amid mounting concerns that the virus is spreading in jails and prisons.