A dispute over a sealed legal complaint filed by a former centerfold model who allegedly had an affair with Elliott Broidy, a wealthy Republican donor, boiled over into a rancorous spat on social media and in a Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday, with opposing attorneys accusing each other of lies and disgraceful behavior.
The lawsuit, filed Friday by Shera Bechard, Playboy’s Miss November 2010, comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report last week that Broidy had ceased making required payments on a $1.6 million non-disclosure agreement he reached with Bechard late last year.
Broidy, who resigned his position as co-chair of finance for the Republican National Committee after the alleged affair became public in April, was represented in the deal by Michael Cohen, the longtime personal attorney for President Donald Trump.
“I acknowledge I had a consensual relationship with a Playboy Playmate,” Broidy said in a statement to ABC News in April. “At the end of our relationship, this woman shared with me that she was pregnant. She alone decided that she did not want to continue with the pregnancy and I offered to help her financially during this difficult period. We have not spoken since that time,” the statement said.
Broidy reportedly now contends that the confidentiality of the deal was breached by Bechard’s former lawyer, Keith Davidson, who is alleged to have shared key details of the agreement with Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult-film star, Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels.
Davidson had previously represented Daniels in 2016 when she negotiated a $130,000 settlement with Cohen over an alleged sexual encounter with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006. The president has denied the allegations of an affair.
After Broidy stopped making the payments – Bechard filed suit against Broidy, Davidson and Avenatti. The specific allegations in the sealed lawsuit have not yet been made public.
On Tuesday morning, just as Avenatti was walking into a Los Angeles courthouse to argue a motion to unseal the complaint and to demand that he be provided with a copy of the lawsuit – Bechard’s attorney Peter Stris tweeted to Avenatti that “putting lies in legal documents doesn’t make them true.” Stris wrote that Avenatti’s “media sideshow is a disgrace.”
Avenatti – from inside the halls of Los Angeles Superior Court – fired back at Stris – calling Bechard’s lead attorney a “disgrace to the profession” and contending that Stris was using Avenatti “as a pawn in order to leverage Broidy.”
“Why won’t you serve me with the complaint?” Avenatti wrote in response to Stris. “Either serve me or dismiss me. And come clean with the American public about what happened.”
He told reporters outside the courtroom that Davidson had volunteered details of Broidy’s deal with Bechard in a conversation last spring, one day before the deal became public in an article in the Wall Street Journal. Avenatti acknowledged that after talking with Davidson, he sent a tweet revealing some particulars about the arrangement, but denies he was a source for the article.
“[Davidson] did not tell me that the agreement was confidential. He did not tell me that I shouldn’t say anything about it,” Avenatti said. “I didn’t owe her any duty. I was never told to keep it confidential, and I owed her nothing. Her beef lies with Mr. Davidson.”
A spokesman for Davidson told ABC News earlier this month that Davidson “has never breached any agreement or client confidentiality in this case. Any accusation to the contrary is false and defamatory.”
Appearing Tuesday before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige, Avenatti argued that he had been “ambushed purposefully” by Bechard’s attorneys with the lawsuit. He argued that the complaint should be unsealed to the public and that he could not effectively contest the charges against him without being provided with a copy of the complaint.
An attorney for Bechard, Victor O’Connell, countered that the decision not to serve Avenatti with the complaint was made out of concern that he would leak portions of the complaint.
Avenatti, O’Connell argued, “is notorious for leaking to the media.”
Marvin Putman – a lawyer for Broidy – told the judge that his client supported the existing order to seal the case for 20 days, calling the ruling “perfect.”
Judge Hiroshige also heard arguments from Kelli Sager, an attorney for seven media organizations, including ABC News, who asserted that there was no legitimate basis for keeping the lawsuit sealed – given that many of the details of the non-disclosure agreement had already been made public.
Hiroshige ultimately decided to keep the lawsuit under seal for now, but ordered Bechard’s attorneys to immediately provide Avenatti with a copy of the complaint.
During a break in the proceedings, Avenatti sat alone on a bench in a courtroom corridor reading the complaint on his mobile phone, frequently shaking his head as he scrolled through the documents.
He said later that he intended to abide by the court’s order to keep the record sealed. He declined to reveal specifics of what he’d read, but took one more parting shot at Bechard’s lawsuit.
“It's completely baseless,” he told reporters outside the courtroom “They know they're playing a game. The bottom line is they should have filed this complaint on the public record, disseminated it to each of you and let the American people decide who's telling the truth and who's lying, it's that simple.
“We're going to continue to fight against people that want to hide all of this conduct. It’s not appropriate especially with so much at stake,” he said.
Chris Clark, an attorney for Broidy, did not respond to an email message from ABC News seeking comment on the lawsuit.
ABC News' Cassidy Gard contributed to this report.