Michael Avenatti Takes Stormy Daniels to Court for Millions in Legal Backpay

Pilar Melendez, Betsy Swan
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Embattled lawyer Michael Avenatti is taking legal action against his ex-client Stormy Daniels for $2 million in legal fees from their infamous “hush agreement” lawsuit against President Donald Trump. 

Avenatti, who currently faces federal criminal charges set for trial next month, filed an attorney’s lien on Thursday. It alleges that despite “repeated demands that Ms. Daniels fulfill her contractual obligations and pay for the millions in legal fees and costs she has enjoyed for her benefit over the last approximate 19 months, including in this case, she has refused.”

Avenatti, 48, claims the porn star refuses to pay up because she is a “celebrity,” and is therefore “entitled to free legal services and costs” and to “manufacture and fabricate facts designed to impugn the reputation of her counsel and falsely accuse him of a multitude of acts.”

“But the law does not work that way Ms. Daniels wishes,” reads the court filing, filed in the United States District Court in the Southern District of Ohio.

“I look forward to the facts and the truth about what really happened coming to light," Avenatti told The Daily Beast when reached for comment. His lawyer, Tom Warren, added: “Mr. Avenatti did an enormous amount of high quality legal work for Ms. Daniels under intense pressure and scrutiny. He made significant personal sacrifices for her benefit. He deserves to be paid by her, not criticized.”

Daniels and her lawyer did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. 

The porn actress and Avenatti became household names in January 2018 after filing a lawsuit to nullify a “hush agreement” Daniels made with then-candidate Trump and his former fixer Michael Cohen just before the election. 

Since then, the two had a very public falling out back in May, and Avenatti has been hounded by legal troubles and currently faces federal charges in two states. In California, prosecutors alleged he stole $300,000 from Daniels and spent it on flights, hotels, restaurant deliveries, and to bankroll his law firm. And a New York grand jury indicted him in March for allegedly trying to extort Nike for $25 million.

Avenatti’s court filing this week alleges the initial February 2018 retainer agreement he made with Daniels was for “$100 up-front payment,” prompting his firm to spend “thousands of attorney and staff hours, and a significant out-of-pocket-expenses.” During his retention, Avenatti said he bailed Daniels out of jail “following her arrest in Columbus Ohio in July 2018” after a strip-club brawl and led the “successful efforts” to have the charges dropped.

“Despite the significance of his work, Ms. Daniels has yet to directly pay a single dollar to Mr. Avenatti or Avenatti & Associates, APC for their legal services beyond the $100.00 she initially paid back in 2018,” the lien states. “Ms. Daniels is required to pay her lawyers.” 

Avenatti has previously told The Daily Beast that “any and all other monies raised via a legal fund would go toward my legal fees and costs.” 

Daniels and Avenatti alleged in her lawsuit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, that Cohen paid her $130,000 during the 2016 campaign to stay quiet about an affair she had with then-reality TV star Trump a decade before he ran for office (the president admits to the payoff but denies the sexual tryst). 

The payoff allegations ultimately led to a federal investigation charging Cohen with eight campaign-finance violations. He pleaded guilty in August, admitting he made illegal payments at Trump’s direction, and was sentenced to three years behind bars.

But, in May, a little over a year after that lawsuit was filed, Daniels and Avenatti announced their split in a pair of tweets.

“I have retained Clark Brewster as my personal lawyer and have asked him and his firm to review all legal matters involving me,” Daniels wrote. “Upon completion of Mr. Brewster's review and further consultation with me, I anticipate Mr. Brewster will serve as my primary counsel on all legal issues.” Less than 15 minutes later, Avenatti responded with his own statement claiming he terminated his relationship with Daniels in February but would not disclose the reasons due to “attorney-client privilege.”

In his new legal action, Avenatti says he decided to cut ties after “Daniels became increasingly difficult, uncooperative, erratic, and unpredictable, and began falsely accusing people closely aligned with her (but not Mr. Avenatti) of theft without any legitimate basis.”

“Ms. Daniels’ false accusations in some instances were targeted at friends of 20 years and her private security detail,” the filing alleges. 

The letter states the firm also decided to sever ties after “prior false accusations (which you chose to make public before communicating them to me—I found out from a reporter)” and Daniels’ “general lack of appreciation for our work and the thousands of hours we have devoted to you, which we have largely done for free at great expense to me and my firm.”

Avenatti concluded in the letter that the firm did not intend to make “any public announcement relation to our decision to no longer represent” Daniels and thanked her for the opportunity to serve as her counsel.

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This story has been updated to reflect the correct date of the lawsuit’s filing.

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