Criminal Law

Avenatti Convicted of Extorting Nike. Lessons to Be Learned.

Michael Avenatti – remember him? He was the lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels, the porn star, in a lawsuit against President Trump. Well hours ago he was was found guilty of trying to extort sneaker giant Nike out of $25 Million.

A New York federal jury found Avenatti guilty on three counts, including extortion, wire fraud and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort. He faces up to a combined 42 years in prison. I predict 5 years as the likely sentence. June 17 is the scheduled sentence date.

The charges alleged that he tried to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to expose corruption at the sports footwear company unless he was allowed to conduct an internal probe of Nike.

Michael Avenatti courtesy of ABC News

Avenatti of course rose to his 15 minutes of fame during frequent cable television program appearances in 2018 and 2019 as journalists put him on for information about Daniels and her affair with President Trump. She made claims about the affair before he became president and a received a payoff through Trump attorney Michael Cohen to remain silent about it.

Avenatti was arrested last year as he was about to meet Nike lawyers to pursue his demands for millions to conduct an internal probe of the company. Avenatti maintained he was taking the aggressive position at the urging of his client, Gary Franklin, who ran a youth basketball league in Los Angeles and was angry that Nike ended a decade-long sponsorship that provided $72,000 annually and free gear. He sought $1.5 million for Franklin, as well.

So what can attorneys learn from this saga – besides not extorting a global company for $25 Million? Well (1) When you get a client or a case that gives you national attention – use that exposure wisely. Don’t over-expose yourself, don’t over-hype yourself. Take a page out of Jose Baez’s playbook. He represented Casey Anthony in what was then the Trial of the Moment. But he rarely played the media darling and rarely showed up on cable news. Even after the case was over, he did not take every interview thrown at him. Instead, he used that notoriety to build up his practice into a national criminal defense law firm. (2) There’s a fine line between making a pre-litigation demand and being accused of extortion. But there is a line. Do have a legitimate and valid claim that can be spelled out in the demand letter. Don’t threaten exposure in the media as part of your demand. Any sophisticated potential defendant will see the likely negative press if you file a claim. Don’t demand $1.5 Million for your client and $25 Million for yourself. It’s a bad look and why would Nike need you to conduct an investigation?

Avenatti flew too close to the sun and his head got too large. He thought his name alone would make Nike bend the knee and quiver at the thought of the bad publicity. Let it be a cautionary tale for those attorneys who suddenly find themselves as the flavor du jour of cable news.

Follow me on Twitter @oscarmichelen

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