World News

U.S. rejects Avenatti claim that ‘document dump’ justifies Nike trial delay

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Monday rejected Michael Avenatti’s claim that they overwhelmed him with large amounts of material for the Jan. 21 trial accusing the celebrity lawyer of trying to extort Nike Inc, and that the material should be excluded or the trial delayed by 30 days.

In a filing late Sunday night in Manhattan federal court, Avenatti’s lawyers had said prosecutors’ recent “document dump,” including more than 13,800 pages of documents and an iPhone from Avenatti’s former office manager, had “severely prejudiced” their client’s ability to prepare for trial.

In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Podolsky said there was no delay in delivering the documents, even “to gain some kind of advantage.”

He also accused Avenatti of seeking to use the documents as part of “an improper effort to blame the victim,” Nike, and “distract the jury from the only question before it: the defendant’s guilt.”

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe oversees Avenatti’s case and will decide what should be done.

Avenatti became known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels and criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump.

He was charged with threatening to hold a news conference discussing Nike’s alleged improper payments to college basketball recruits unless the athletic wear company paid his client, youth basketball coach Gary Franklin, $1.5 million and paid Avenatti up to $25 million to conduct an internal probe.

Prosecutors also charged Avenatti with failing to tell Franklin that Nike offered to settle the coach’s claims without paying Avenatti, costing the lawyer money.

Avenatti has pleaded not guilty. Nike has denied wrongdoing.

In his filing, Avenatti also said evidence to support prosecutors’ claim he was at least $15 million in debt when he dealt with Nike, giving him a possible motive to extort, could “overwhelm the trial” and should be excluded.

He cited, among other things, prosecutors’ plan to call a former divorce lawyer for his estranged wife as a witness.

Prosecutors countered that Avenatti made his own finances an issue, in part by offering his biography as part of his defense.

“It is apparent that the defendant fully intends at trial to suggest-if not outright argue-that he was a successful lawyer who had no reason to commit a financially-motivated offense,” Podolsky wrote. “That suggestion would be false.”

Avenatti has denied owing millions in debt.

The case is U.S. v. Avenatti, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-cr-00373.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Nick Macfie and David Gregorio)