We hoped Michael Avenatti’s 15 minutes of fame ended months ago. Although he may be a gifted trial lawyer, our opinion is that he overpromises and rarely delivers. On paper, he has huge victories involving hundreds of millions of dollars but recently his press is all bad. So why is Avenatti apparently broke and why are people – many people – accusing him of theft?
If there is any lesson here, it is that despite being a celebrity and a good trial lawyer, people aren’t always what they seem. With so many civil lawsuits and criminal charges, the real truth will probably unfold in the months ahead. That may not be enough for Avenatt’s former clients, however.
Before we begin, all the current media hype against Avenatti is not proof of guilt. To say the first 6 months of 2019 have been an unmitigated disaster for Michael Avenatti is an understatement but he hasn’t been convicted of anything. Yet.
Paraplegic Says Avenatti Pilfered $4 Million
Geoffrey Johnson, the man suing Avenatti, is an unusual character. In other words, he fits perfectly in Avenatti’s world. His claim to fame was a botched suicide attempt at the Los Angeles County Jail.
From what we can piece together from court and public records, Johnson was arrested in 2012. At the time, he suffered some mental health issues. Johnson says he was abused by guards which ultimately resulted in him trying to jump to his death.
Johnson didn’t die but was seriously injured. His injuries left him a paraplegic.
That Avenatti got Johnson $4 million from the county for Johnson’s suicide attempt shows that Avenatti can be a gifted lawyer. But where is the money? That is the $64 question or should we say the $4 million question.
Johnson’s New Lawyer Claims Avenatti Stole Millions
According to the lawsuit,
“The most notorious of the attorneys who harmed JOHNSON is Defendant MICHAEL J. AVENATTI ("AVENATTI"), the former fixture on cable TV best known for representing adult actress Stormy Daniels, and for about five minutes an aspiring Presidential candidate. AVENATTI is now facing more than 300 years in prison after being indicted by federal prosecutors on both coasts for a host of wrongful conduct, including against JOHNSON, who is identified as "Client 1" in a 36-count indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office on April 10, 2019 in the Central District of California for wire fraud, tax evasion, and related criminal offenses.”
“AVENATTI played a primary role in refusing to pay to JOHNSON the settlement funds allocated to him, and then siphoning off those funds. AVENATTI then repeatedly lied to JOHNSON in falsely stating that Los Angeles County would pay only in installments over years and years. and that it would not begin such payments until the County approved of a special needs trust created for JOHNSON. AVENATTI also paid, and caused EAGAN AVENATTI to pay, JOHNSON the minimal amounts of approximately $1,900 once a month to lull JOHNSON into thinking that the underlying case and any settlement from it were being properly handled. AVENATTI claimed to JOHNSON that such minimal payments represented an "advance" against any potential future settlement payment from Los Angeles County -- when in fact Los Angeles County had already paid $4,000,000 for the benefit of JOHNSON to EAGAN AVENATTI's client trust account. AVENATTI has since drained EAGAN AVENATTI's client trust account and any other bank accounts of this money earmarked for JOHNSON.”
Avenatti’s former partners Michael Eagan, Jason M. Frank and Scott Sims are also named in the complaint. And at least two of those lawyers also appear to be suing Avenatti.
For his part, Sims says, "In the course of our multiyear fight against Michael Avenatti, we recently discovered evidence that he stole Mr. Johnson's settlement money. We promptly reported what we learned to federal authorities, confronted Mr. Avenatti in open court, and informed Mr. Johnson's family. We are appalled by Mr. Avenatti's conduct and hope that Mr. Johnson obtains justice against Mr. Avenatti."
Avenatti, of course, is unrepentant and denies all charges. He told Law360, "Mr. Johnson's claims are categorically false and frivolous, and his case will be thrown out of court. He previously agreed on numerous occasions, including in multiple detailed writings ... that I conducted myself ethically at all times, he was kept informed about all aspects of his case, he was provided all monies when due ... and he was extremely thankful for my assistance, which was provided after no other lawyer would take his case."
He also said that Johnson’s lawyer is a “Trump supporter.” (The relevancy of that reference baffles us as well.)
This isn’t the only time that Avenatti has been accused of theft. Last month he was charged criminally with stealing money from Stormy Daniels. According to the charges, Daniels was given an $800,000 to write a book. Prosecutors say that Avenatti forged paperwork so that $300,000 of her advance went to him. At his arraignment he said he was “100% not guilty”.
Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney said of the indictment, " Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney – the duty to his client. As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal. As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari. Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client."
Lavish lifestyle? A Justice Department press release from his Los Angeles indictment says “The financial investigation conducted by the IRS details a man who allegedly failed to meet his obligations to the government, stole from his clients, and used his ill-gotten gains to support his racing team, the ownership of Tully’s coffee shops, and a private jet.”
Avenatti has gone from a man who just months ago was contemplating a run for the President of the United States to a man know facing 300 years in prison.
While all the lawyers beat their chests and exchange fiery accusations, we worry about Geoffrey Johnson. If what his lawyer says is true, Johnson has been victimized twice.
First by Los Angeles County where he was so stressed and harassed that he tried to jump to his death. Some may question that but Johnson’s charges were all dropped and the County thought the harassment was real enough to stroke a check for $4 million.
In the second instance, Johnson was victimized by Avenatti. He is a paraplegic whose settlement money is allegedly stolen by the very man hired to protect him.
My Lawyer Stole from Me, Now What?
Theft of a client’s funds technically isn’t malpractice. It is a crime. But whether malpractice or a crime, lawyers are responsible if they steal from clients. To understand and learn how you can sue a lawyer, visit our Legal Malpractice information page.
Every malpractice case is different. If your lawyer failed to provide you with adequate legal representation, you may have a valid legal malpractice claim. If your lawyer made a mistake that no reasonable attorney would have made, and you lost money because of it, you can sue your for malpractice.
Ready to see if you have a case? Contact us online, by email at [hidden email] or by phone at 877-858-8018. All inquiries are kept strictly confidential. We consider cases nationwide.