Former celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti is in court this week facing a lawsuit from his former client Stephanie Clifford, known by the stage name Stormy Daniels in her adult film work. As of Tuesday, the trial was not going as well as he’d probably hoped it would.
According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Clifford is suing her former lawyer for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges. She has accused Avenatti of embezzling $300,000 that Clifford says was rightfully hers from a book advance.
During the trial, Avenatti apparently had some sort of disagreement with his legal team. As a result, he was forced to make a request on Tuesday to represent himself in court.
In the request to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, Avenatti said there was a “breakdown in the relationship between me and my counsel that goes to the heart of my ability to mount a defense,” the New York Post reported.
Avenatti added in comments outside the courtroom that he felt he gave himself the best chance at winning.
“It’s my arena,” he said Tuesday, according to the Post. “It’s where I’m most at home. And I think it gives me the best chance at winning.”
The Mail reported one of Avenatti’s lawyers told the court the aforementioned “breakdown” stemmed from a “difference of opinion” regarding cross-examination strategy.
While Avenatti may sincerely believe he is giving himself the best chance to win, a defendant changing legal counsel in the middle of a trial is usually not a great sign of success.
In addition, witness testimony on Tuesday sounded rather damming for Avenatti. According to the Mail, his former office manager Judy Regnier testified that she overheard Avenatti discussing a lawsuit to “take down” then-President Donald Trump in 2018.
In February 2018, Clifford signed a contract making Avenatti her lawyer in her legal action against Trump.
Regnier said Avenatti bragged about representing Clifford in the lawsuit and told colleagues he would “make money from lawsuits against Donald Trump.”
She told the court that Avenatti’s legal business was missing rent payments at the time because it was so strapped for cash, which might provide further insight into Avenatti’s desperate state.
Clifford’s lawsuit, however, was dubious from the beginning. According to Forbes, Clifford alleged she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and then received $130,000 from him to stay silent during his presidential campaign in 2016.
Clifford admitted she took the money and signed a non-disclosure agreement. While the accusation was not a great look for Trump, it did not lead to any criminal charges.
Ultimately, Clifford’s suit to void the NDA failed in 2019, Forbes reported. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined to hear a subsequent defamation case brought by Clifford against Trump in February 2021.
Any lawyer worth his salt would understand how shaky Clifford’s case was, but Avenatti took it anyway. If Regnier’s testimony is true, he may have done so out of a desire for money rather than justice.
A little less than four years later, Avenatti has gone from an allegedly self-proclaimed Trump slayer to an accused embezzler defending himself in court. As the old adage goes, life comes at you fast.