The downfall of Michael Avenatti is a reminder to Orange County lawyers that they must follow ethics rules and keep their clients top of mind, according to a local attorney.
“They should refrain from considering any illegal or unethical tactics because they will be held accountable like Avenatti was,” said Cayce Lynch, administrative partner with the Tyson & Mendes law firm.
Lynch was reacting to the news that Avenatti was sentenced to 14 years in prison last week after it was proven that he stole some $10 million in settlement funds from his clients.
U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana ordered the former Newport Beach civil rights attorney to pay more than $10.5 million in restitution.
“Avenatti was found to have crossed the line several times, engaging in tax evasion, extortion, fraud, and embezzlement,” Lynch told OrangeCountyLawyers.com.
Prior to being accused of trying to extort $25 million from Nike, siphoning some $300,000 from porn star Stormy Daniels’ settlement, wire fraud and a tax-related felony, Avenatti was considered a competent attorney by his peers.
“He had a healthy amount of success in settling plaintiff’s claims,” said John Shu, a local attorney. “Some of the claims may or may not have been questionable. It’s hard to tell but the fact of the matter is he got the defendants to settle, and that’s usually the preferred outcome for the plaintiff.
He was eventually convicted of pilfering Daniels’ book profits after he had represented her in a smear campaign against former U.S. Pres. Donald Trump.
“What’s surprising is the depth of his conduct,” said Brian Kabateck, founder and managing partner of the Los Angeles plaintiff’s firm Kabateck LLP. “It wasn’t just limited to one event or one person.”
“I think he started to believe his own press about who he was,” Kabateck said of Avenatti. “The guy said he was going to run for president. That’s somebody who’s got an outsized ego.”
Avenatti is currently being held at the Terminal Island Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in San Pedro and he was also sentenced to 48 months in prison for fraud and aggravated identity theft in Manhattan federal court by U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman.
“He may ultimately serve less than his full prison sentence for good behavior,” Lynch added.
The famous lawyer lived large with law offices in Los Angeles, New York and Newport Beach where Shu recalls he maintained his own car racing team. “Everybody in Newport Beach knew of Avenatti,” Shu said. “He had all these fancy cars. He had a Porsche, a Ferrari, and one of those customized Mercedes G wagons.”
Although Shu had never met him and did not know Avenatti personally, he was hard to miss.
“The only thing that helped him out is that there are plenty of Ferraris and Porsches in Newport Beach,” he added. “Avenatti used to brag about his car race team. He lived a high-profile life. He was not a low-profile guy.”
Photo used with permission: Joe Flood
Juliette Fairley covers legal topics for various publications including the Southern California Record, the Epoch Times and Pacer Monitor-News. Prior to discovering she had an ease and facility for law, Juliette lived in Orange County and Los Angeles where she pursued acting in television and film.