NEW YORK -- Opening statements are likely to occur Wednesday in the attempted extortion trial of a California attorney whose representation of porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal fight with President Donald Trump catapulted him to fame.
Prospective jurors were questioned Tuesday by a judge seeking unbiased people to hear the trial of Michael Avenatti. The questioning was not completed, although the jury selection process was nearing its end.
U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe also disallowed plans by Avenatti's attorneys to show exhibits to jurors and play a 2-minute snippet of a recorded conversation during opening statements. Prosecutors objected on the grounds that the exhibits were not yet approved as evidence.
Meanwhile, Avenatti's lawyers appealed a California judge's recent decision to disallow bail for the 48-year-old defendant. Avenatti's lawyers complained again Tuesday that their client's incarceration has made it difficult to prepare for trial.
Gardephe said he'll shorten the trial day by two hours to give Avenatti time to meet with his lawyers in the courtroom before he is returned to his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.
Answers to a brief questionnaire filled out by about 120 prospective jurors on Monday confirmed that most of them had heard of Avenatti or the charges against him. Most said it would not affect their ability to be impartial.
As Gardephe questioned one potential juror Wednesday, she mentioned that she had seen a spoof of Avenatti on “Saturday Night Live.” Avenatti laughed.
Prosecutors said Avenatti tried to extort between $15 million and $25 million from Nike last March after he threatened to reveal proof that the sportswear giant was making illicit payments to families of NBA-bound young athletes. Avenatti has denied the charges in this case and in two other criminal cases.
Later this year, Avenatti faces trial in Manhattan on charges that he cheated Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, out of the proceeds of a book deal. He also faces trial in Los Angeles on charges that he defrauded clients and others out of millions of dollars.
Gardephe said last week that he'll allow mention of Daniels and Trump at Avenatti's trial over prosecutors' objections because he “can't pretend there was sort of an immaculate conception here where Mr. Avenatti suddenly became this incredibly public lawyer magically.”