Adult entertainer Stormy Daniels appears to be unhappy with her lawyer, Michael Avenatti. Not only may she get a new lawyer, but Avenatti could be facing an ethics investigation in the near future as well. This is because of the public accusations which she made against Avenatti on Wednesday.
In a bombshell interview with the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, Daniels said that Avenatti filed an ill-fated defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump without her permission. In fact, she said Avenatti went forward with the lawsuit despite Daniels’ requests not to do so.
In other words, according to Daniels, Avenatti not only filed a lawsuit without telling his client, but also filed it after she told him not to.
Legal experts yesterday weighed in, saying that this was a huge and obvious mistake by the experienced trial attorney.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti commented on Avenatti’s ethical missteps on Twitter. He wrote:
“If true, that is highly unethical. Lawyers cannot ethically file a case on a client’s behalf without first obtaining the client’s informed consent to do so.”
If true, that is highly unethical. Lawyers cannot ethically file a case on a client’s behalf without first obtaining the client’s informed consent to do so. https://t.co/D0HjQSHKSd
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) November 28, 2018
Every trial lawyer knows they can’t take major steps in any litigation without the client’s informed consent. And to proceed against a client’s wishes is highly unethical.
New York University Law School Professor and legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers commented on the case also, telling the Daily Beast:
“If he filed the case with her name when it was clear that she told him not to, then he could be sued for that. He could be sued for malpractice. If true, she has a malpractice case against him. I emphasize if true. And if true, he would be subject to discipline but not as serious as disbarment.”
Avenatti also started an online crowdfunding effort on Daniels’ behalf without ever telling her about it. He also allegedly has refused to provide Daniels with information about the amount of money raised and spent on her behalf.
“For months I’ve asked Michael Avenatti to give me accounting information about the fund my supporters so generously donated to for my safety and legal defense. He has repeatedly ignored those requests,” Daniels claimed in her statement to the Daily Beast. “Days ago I demanded again, repeatedly, that he tell me how the money was being spent and how much was left. Instead of answering me, without my permission or even my knowledge Michael launched another crowdfunding campaign to raise money on my behalf. I learned about it on Twitter.”
Avenatti is defending himself without expressly disagreeing with or criticizing Daniels. Yesterday he called himself Daniels’ “biggest champion,” and attempted to clarify the monetary situation.
“The retention agreement Stormy signed back in February provided that she would pay me $100.00 and that any and all other monies raised via a legal fund would go toward my legal fees and costs,” Avenatti said. “Instead, the vast majority of the money raised has gone toward her security expenses and similar other expenses. The most recent campaign was simply a refresh of the prior campaign, designed to help defray some of Stormy’s expenses.”
Daniels also said that she was considering taking Avenatti off her case and detailed a laundry list of complaints against her highly visible attorney.
Daniels told The Daily Beast:
I haven’t decided yet what to do about legal representation moving forward. Michael has been a great advocate in many ways. I’m tremendously grateful to him for aggressively representing me in my fight to regain my voice. But in other ways Michael has not treated me with the respect and deference an attorney should show to a client. He has spoken on my behalf without my approval. He filed a defamation case against Donald Trump against my wishes. He repeatedly refused to tell me how my legal defense fund was being spent. Now he has launched a new crowdfunding campaign using my face and name without my permission and attributing words to me that I never wrote or said.
Since becoming nationally prominent because of his representation of Daniels, Avenatti has been travelling throughout the country appearing at Democratic Party fundraisers while saying he is considering a run for the presidency himself.
Although he has been effective at criticizing Donald Trump on TV, Avenatti does not appear to be “ready for prime time.” More information has come out recently about his personal life, including a domestic violence arrest earlier this month.
It’s possible that this latest bit of negative publicity may help Avenatti decide that he should stick to being a trial lawyer and give up on his political aspirations.