Avenatti Found Guilty In New York Fraud Trial

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Michael Avenatti was convicted this afternoon by a jury of all three charges in the extortion trial related to demands for up to $25 million from Nike. I post this news with a great sense of personal sadness. Michael was one of my students and research assistants. He was an outstanding student and one of the most talented trial attorneys in the country. He now faces two other federal trials and significant jail time.

I felt that this first trial held the best chance for Avenatti in seeking an acquittal or hung jury. While the tax and contract claims tend to be more cut and dry, this case turned on how to interpret demands as either zealous advocacy or extortion. The most damaging element was Avenatti’s demand for a lucrative contract for himself for an internal investigation. He was representing Gary Franklin, the coach of youth basketball team California Supreme. Franklin claimed that Nike forced him to make illicit payments to top high school basketball players and their families and later ended its sponsorship of the team.

The prosecutors showed that Avenatti had assumed a towering level of debt and argued that he used the case for self-dealing in an effort to get a windfall from Nike. He demanded $1.5 million for Franklin as well as a payment to Avenatti and another attorney of $12 million. He also asked for a guarantee of $15 to $25 million in payments for the internal investigation.

There is a tragic quality to all of this as a modern Icarus who flew too close to the sun. Michael became wildly successful as an attorney but also wildly spent what he earned from major victories in court. This included private jets, expensive condos, and an indulgent lifestyle. His life was truly a rags to riches story of a kid who worked his way through school and then rocketed to the top of elite lawyers. That story became a tragedy when his rapid climb was followed by an equally rapid plunge from a great height.

I am terribly saddened as I think of that young, ambitious lawyer who sat in my office asking to become a research assistant. That is still the Michael that I remember: highly intelligent, highly motivated. It is hard not to feel a sense of paternalism over our students as we watch them progress in law school and in their professions. Indeed, the greatest joy in teaching is to watch the optimism and excitement of your students as they set out on their careers. We see them when there is nothing but a horizon before them and limitless possibilities. As shocked as I was by these charges, I still cling to the memory of that young law student breaming with talent and drive. He was ultimately undone not by this aptitude but his appetite. That is the true tragedy.

88 thoughts on “Avenatti Found Guilty In New York Fraud Trial”

  1. I have liked some “Bad people” myself. And these were very humane words from Turley about his former student. I appreciate Turley’s sense of personal affection and I don’t mind hearing about it.

    Life goes on. Avenatti will have plenty of work for him in prison. He will get out one day and apply his talents to more socially useful endeavors, I hope.

    1. “He will get out one day…”

      Maybe not.

      But as you rightly note, he won’t be lacking for work while in prison.

  2. There is a god above! Mr. Avenatti just got convicted. He could face as much as 42 years in the slammer. YES!

  3. I understand your sadness. It is the sign of a dedicated teacher who is sincere in making the world a better place by mentoring young hopefuls. On the other hand, students have private lives which their teachers never know. He showed you who he wanted you to see. It’s part of a con’s nature.

  4. DBB, I guess it means whatever you want it to mean at any given time. Like you can change the rules of the game as the game is being played. Must be great to live in DBB world.

  5. If Avenatti goes to jail for a long time, does that mean we don’t have to listen to any of his BS for a long time.

  6. He was blinded by his own arrogance. It’s one thing to steal from your paraplegic client; it’s another to try to extort $25 mil from Nike. Did he seriously think they were going to capitulate? No, they were going to fight with everything they had, including enlisting the FBI. Avenatti has burned everyone he came across in his personal life and professional career. He deserved to be taken down.

    1. That is another meaning of “liberal”.

      However, later there were homestead acts, nationally supported railroads, and even later, nationally supported dams. That doesn’t end the list.

  7. His biggest legal sin to my mind was shafting his clients. He had a fiduciary duty to them; theirs was an express relationship of trust. Allegstions are that he violated that trust. His shakedown of Nike was crudely grasping but it did not involve a fiduciary relationship.

    I have as much sympathy for him as he had for others: none.

  8. All I knew of Avenatti was the current scandals – his representation of Stormy Daniels, her subsequent accusations against him, and the Nike extortion. Thank you for telling the positive side of his story, when he was younger, talented, and full of promise.

    I know of another young lawyer, frantically destroying his own bright prospects. What kind of synergy acts upon the desire to prove oneself, glee at success, and rush to reward themselves. I think every step along the way, when they make a self-serving, bad decision, they think they deserve to hae a little fun or earn a little more. Don’t they work all those hours? They sometimes seem to follow the paths of actors, bright meteorites that shoot across the sky…and then snuff out.

  9. I suspect strongly, because of my own personal knowledge of another brilliant trial attorney who possesses similar behaviors, that Michael Avenatti developed a serious addiction issue along his course. His avarice also indicates this can be true. And my heart goes out to you Mr. Turley because we all feel so powerless and hopeless in the face of other people’s addictions. They ruin not only their own lives but the lives of those around them. In our country, since drug and alcohol addiction is truly non-discriminatory, we will never be truly free of seeing devastating effects of it in all walks of life until it is addressed successfully on a National level. In this day and age, when we can control so many things, why can’t we at least develop addiction therapies that have high rates of success??? Have we NOT figured that out yet? I guess not…

    1. You, too? I also know of an attorney with bright prospects who got into drugs and hanging out with actors and rockstars.

      As for the addiction itself, it changes our brain chemistry. Opioids, for instance, alter our pain receptors. Withdrawal feels like unbearable pain. If the addict took opioids to treat a legitimate injury, they become convinced they need their medicine, and keep taking it until the changes are deep.

      These drugs were promised as miracle pain cures. Panacea, almost. The medical community took too long to realize the harm they caused. They created addicts, and then sent them on their merry way.

      The problem with addiction therapies are twofold. Medical addiction therapy drugs like methadone are even more addictive than the drugs they were created to replace. They just don’t produce the same high. They build up a tolerance and need more and more and more, and then they are hooked on a more unshakeable drug than ever before. Once again, the miracle cure was poison. https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/methadone/

      I do not think our current drug assisted withdrawal therapies are optimal. Just going through the withdrawal with palliative care might be the best choice for many.

      Why do they fail? Free will. An addiction is both physical and mental. They don’t address why they got addicted in the first place, won’t cut off their family or friends who are users, won’t move and get a fresh start, and they’ve often plowed up their lives so badly it’s hard for them to get a new job. Or they don’t lean on their support network. Addiction seems to be extremely difficult to fight. I read somewhere that the average times in rehab to kick heroin is something like 24. People cannot afford that. Communities cannot afford to pay for endless trips to rehab, at $5 – $50,000 each time, for so many people. But rehab requires intensive therapy – cognitive, behavioral, and medical.

      I do not think that medicine will take away all these barriers to breaking addiction for a long time. We cannot be protected from all of the consequences. I’ve had an addict tell me that people telling her to stop using was like they were demanding her to stop breathing. The last I heard, she was still using.

        1. Hmmm, so nothing about why it’s hard, or why methadone makes it worse. Just “free will” and bash the addicts. That’s rather sad.

  10. There is one tragic aspect to this story. Michael Avenatti saw Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson do exactly what he did and not be tried, let alone jailed. My guess is that he though racial equality worked both ways, and that a white scam artist ought to be able to get away with what Jackson and Sharpton did.

  11. Michael Avenatti also commingled funds of some of his clients with his own. He embezzled from a disabled client of his.

    Calling Avenatti “a modern Icarus who flew too close to the Sun” is romanticizing a courtroom thug who used his fabulous education to steal from others. If anyone deserved to be buried under a rock the size of a postcard in a plot only accessible through someone’s office backdoor, it’s Michael Avenatti.

  12. Now if the system could just take down criminals who are members of the bar and hold government jobs. Not holdin’ my breath.

    1. TIA:

      It’s not lost on the public that McCabe and Page are lawyers pledged to uphold the Constitution. Either the two-tiered justice system collapses or the country does.

  13. When he got into the Coffee Biz, he did not handling it. When he started his own law firm, it went badly.
    He spent himself into millions in debt, chasing after celebrity, and fame.
    If only he could have stayed away from the lear jets to carry him from L A to
    D C and NYC. He lost his way. It was tragedy, in many ways.
    He lost all perspective, and ethics, but why?

    1. The tragedy was in how the legal system didn’t stop Michael Avenatti before he swindled a disabled man. Avenatti himself is not a tragic figure. He is merely a loathsome one who indulged his expensive appetites with his clients’ money.

      1. Excellent distinction. Avenatti is not a tragic figure. He is a loathsome one. And the media talking heads who promoted Avenatti as the next-coming-of-the-savior-who-would-take-down-Trump were complicit. These media personalities, like Jeffrey Toobin, are now saying ‘oh golly gee, I got snookered by Avenatti’!! why Toobin, you’re a lawyer!?? But the problem, as Greta Van Sustern pointed out, is that Toobin and others went and ‘snookered’ their viewers.

        They should all be ashamed over at CNN, MSNBC and the idiots on The View, but then, like the Clintons, none of them have any shame. Hopefully none of them will have any viewers left either.

        At least Tucker Carlson had the sense to call him out as the Creepy Porn lawyer he is.

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