Supreme Court Rejects Lawyer Michael Avenatti’s Bid to Overturn Conviction

Attorney Michael Avenatti sought to have his 2020 conviction for extorting Nike and defrauding a client overturned.
Supreme Court Rejects Lawyer Michael Avenatti’s Bid to Overturn Conviction
Attorney Michael Avenatti arrives at federal court in Santa Ana, Calif., on April 1, 2019. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)
Zachary Stieber

The U.S. Supreme Court on May 28 said it was rejecting a bid by lawyer Michael Avenatti, known for representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels, to overturn his conviction in a Nike-related case.

The justices did not explain their decision. The court said Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, did not participate in the decision to turn down Mr. Avenatti’s writ for certiorari, or review of a lower court ruling.

Mr. Avenatti has represented a woman who accused Justice Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

Mr. Avenatti was convicted in 2020 of extorting Nike and defrauding a client.

At the center of the Nike-related case was a threat, caught on an audio recording, made by Mr. Avenatti in 2019. He threatened to tarnish the athletic wear company’s reputation and hurt its stock price by exposing its alleged corrupt payments to the families of college basketball prospects.

Mr. Avenatti was heard threatening to “blow the lid” on Nike at a press conference unless it paid up to $25 million for him to conduct a probe, plus $1.5 million to his client, youth basketball coach Gary Franklin.

Mr. Franklin testified that he did not want an investigation and merely wanted Nike to resume sponsoring his team.

Nike has denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors said Mr. Avenatti was looking to enrich himself and pay down heavy debts tied to his law firm and a recent divorce. He was convicted of extorting Nike and of committing “honest services fraud” against Mr. Franklin, in which someone in a position of authority deprives a client or constituent of his right to honest services.

Mr. Avenatti’s lawyers in a Supreme Court filing argued that the 1988 statute criminalizing honest services fraud is so vague that it violates the right of defendants to due process under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. They also urged the justices to take up the case to declare that settlement negotiations like Mr. Avenatti’s communications with Nike cannot give rise to criminal extortion charges.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the nation’s top court should decline to take up the case, noting that Mr. Avenatti did not raise the vagueness argument in briefs to a federal appeals court.

“Consistent with this court’s ’traditional rule,‘ the court should thus decline to grant a writ of certiorari to address a question that was ‘not pressed or passed upon below,’” government lawyers said, quoting from an earlier ruling in a separate case.

They also said the exertion conviction was correct because Mr. Avenatti violated it by demanding the payment of up to $25 million from Nike.

After jurors convicted Mr. Avenatti, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, ruled against Mr. Avenatti’s request for acquittal.

The appeals court in 2023 upheld that ruling.

Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in a file photograph. (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in a file photograph. (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

“The trial evidence was sufficient to support Avenatti’s conviction for the two charged extortion counts because a reasonable jury could find therefrom that Avenatti’s threat to injure Nike’s reputation and financial position was wrongful in that the multi-million-dollar demand supported by the threat bore no nexus to any claim of right,” U.S. Circuit Judge Reena Raggi wrote for the unanimous circuit court panel.

The appointee of former President Bush was joined by Circuit Judges Michael Park, an appointee of former President Trump, and John Walker Jr., an appointee of former President George H.W. Bush.

“The trial evidence was sufficient to support Avenatti’s conviction for honest-services fraud because a reasonable jury could find therefrom that Avenatti solicited a bribe from Nike in the form of a quid pro quo whereby Nike would pay Avenatti many millions of dollars in return for which Avenatti—in addition to forbearing on his extortion threat—would violate his fiduciary duty as an attorney by influencing his client to accept a settlement of potential claims without realizing that he was receiving only a small fraction of the many millions of dollars that Nike would be paying Avenatti,” the panel found.

Daniel Habib, a lawyer representing Mr. Avenatti, declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s action. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Avenatti, 53, gained fame in 2018 while representing Ms. Daniels, an adult film performer whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in litigation against President Trump. He was a regular on cable television and promoted by a number of opponents of the president.

Mr. Avenatti’s 2020 conviction on fraud and extortion drew a sentence of 30 months in prison.

Mr. Avenatti was convicted of defrauding Ms. Daniels out of a book contract and was sentenced in June 2022 to an additional two and a half years behind bars. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit upheld that conviction earlier this year.

In December 2022, Mr. Avenatti was sentenced to 14 more years in prison after he pleaded guilty to cheating four other clients, including a paraplegic man, out of millions of dollars.

Reuters contributed to this report.
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]