Michael Avenatti convinced a judge to postpone a hearing to probe his former firm's finances today—arguing the lawyer set to grill him should be disqualified from asking the questions.
Avenatti—famous for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump—was due to sit for a Judgment Debtor Exam at the U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California, after his erstwhile firm Eagan Avenatti was ordered to pay $10 million to Jason Frank, a former employee.
However, before the examination started, Avenatti raised objection to Frank's lawyer Andrew Stolper, who used to work at Eagan Avenatti but left to form a new firm with Frank and another lawyer called Scott Sims.
Avenatti told Judge Karen Scott that he hadn't expected it to be Stolper questioning him and argued it would be unfair to him if he did. He said: “I object and the firm objects to Mr. Stolper playing any role in the proceedings...
“There’s a clear conflict of interest. These proceedings cannot occur and we object to it occurring today.”
He added: "This is patently improper."
Avenatti argued that Stolper has previously represented him and the firm in a separate case involving his finances. He told the court he would file a written motion by next Thursday detailing why Stolper should be disqualified.
Stolper told the court he didn’t recall appearing in the case. Avenatti said he would produce paperwork to support his claim.
(Stolper, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, has a colorful record in his own right: he was accused of misconduct in a criminal securities fraud trial, and was also slammed for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information to the media. The California Bar Association investigated the allegations against Stolper and declined to take any action, according to the OC Register.)
The court also heard that earlier this week Frank filed an application for an order against Avenatti for civil contempt—accusing him of not complying with a court order to produce documents he'd requested.
Stolper told the court he had planned to examine Avenatti for at least a full day to try to establish where Eagan Avenatti's money is and said he was happy to go ahead with the information he had at his disposal, despite not having the documents requested from Avenatti.
Judge Scott adjourned for 20 minutes to consider Avenatti's motion request and returned to tell the parties she didn't have sufficient facts in front of her to rule on it today. She added she could have taken a dim view of Avenatti raising it at the "11th hour" but she wanted to make sure there was not a conflict and told him to file a written motion by January 10th.
She said Frank should then file his opposition to it within a week and suggested he include evidence of why he thinks it is a "frivolous motion." She also said he could include an argument for Avenatti to pay his costs.
In a last ditch bid to get Avenatti on the stand today, Stolper then suggested Frank take his place as questioner for today's Debtor exam and quiz Avenatti himself.
However Avenatti objected, arguing the "same issues" applied if Frank questioned him as they are all from the same law firm. He argued they should bring in "non-conflicted" attorneys to do it.
Stolper said Frank was "certainly capable" of doing the questioning and Avenatti's argument had no basis in the reality of the law.
He also said the information Avenatti claimed is confidential is "not confidential at all" and JFL Law is entitled to know where "every penny" of Eagan Avenatti's money is.
Judge Scott told Avenatti to include in his motion why Frank should also not be allowed to examine him but said she was still aborting proceedings for today.
Frank was then allowed to address the court, however almost immediately after the lawyer stood up and began speaking, telling the court: "The reason for the urgency is Mr. Avenatti has been transferring assets…” Judge Scott cut him off and ended the hearing.
The next hearing is set for Thursday January 24th at 10 am.