Avenatti asks judge to nix Nike jury verdict or OK new trial

NEW YORK — The once high-flying California attorney Michael Avenatti wants a judge to reject a jury verdict that found he tried to extort Nike.

Lawyers for Avenatti asked a Manhattan judge late Monday to overturn the verdict or grant a new trial for the 49-year-old man who rose to fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump.

They said in court papers that U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe should take the rare step of overturning the jury verdict that convicted him of trying to extort up to $25 million from the shoemaker.

And they noted that Gardephe has not yet ruled on their pre-trial request to toss out the indictment on the grounds that the charges were too vague to give him fair notice that his negotiating tactics with Nike would be considered illegal.

Normally, such a request to overturn a verdict would have virtually no chance. But Gardephe several years ago rejected a jury’s conviction of a New York City police officer who was branded by tabloids as the “Cannibal Cop” after he was charged with plotting to kidnap and abuse women in what his defence lawyers insisted was legal online sexual fantasy explorations.

In their court papers, Avenatti’s lawyers insisted that their client acted legally as he aggressively negotiated with Nike on behalf of a California amateur basketball coach who believed he’d been coerced by Nike employees to help pay off the families of elite college basketball prospects.

Avenatti insisted Nike pay him over $20 million to conduct an internal investigation of the apparel giant even if it agreed to pay the coach $1.5 million. Nike lawyers testified that Avenatti’s tactics felt like they were victims of a holdup. The coach testified he didn’t know Avenatti would demand money for himself.

They said Gardephe should conclude the evidence did not support the verdict or should order a new trial on the grounds that jurors were deprived of a chance to see all the evidence.

Avenatti is scheduled to be sentenced on June 17. He also faces a trial in New York later this year on charges that he cheated porn star Stormy Daniels of the proceeds of a book deal and a trial in Los Angeles on charges that he ripped off clients and others.

Prosecutors and defence lawyers in the case involving Daniels have asked that the trial be postponed from April to mid-July.

In Los Angeles, U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna on Saturday rejected Avenatti’s request to be released on bail, saying there was no basis to reconsider his decision that Avenatti was a danger to the community.

Selna said there was no basis to release Avenatti on medical ground, although he accepted Avenatti’s claim that he had pneumonia six months ago and was more vulnerable to coronavirus.

But he said there was no proof that a cellmate removed from his cell with flu-like symptoms had coronavirus and there were no reports of inmates with the virus at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Avenatti is held in lower Manhattan.

Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press

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