LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles prosecutors said Friday that they have declined to charge attorney Michael Avenatti with misdemeanor domestic violence but will hold hearings on the allegations.
Actress Mareli Miniutti got a restraining order against Avenatti in November after accusing him of dragging her by the arm across a bedroom floor of his apartment following an argument.
"I am extremely thankful that after three thorough investigations, one by the LAPD, one by the LA District Attorney, and one by the LA City Attorney, the truth of my innocence is now established and no charges are being brought," Avenatti said.
An attorney for Miniutti said he was notified of the decision by the supervising attorney of the city attorney's family violence unit that prosecutors believed his client but didn't think they could win a conviction.
"This decision is an outrage not only for Ms. Miniutti, but for women everywhere," attorney Michael Bachner said in a statement. "The message sent to victims of abuse is clear — think carefully before you come forward."
Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Attorney Mike Feuer, said charges could be brought on allegations of spousal abuse or battery after informal hearings in which the alleged victim and Avenatti will be able to present their cases.
The decision to hold the closed-door hearing reflects that the case is "on the fence," said defense lawyer Stephen G. Rodriguez, who is not involved in the matter.
Cases that go to a hearing in front of an officer — not a judge — typically involve a suspect who has no criminal record and where the evidence is weak, such as one person's word against another's.
"It becomes a he said-she said situation, and those are hard to prosecute," Rodriguez said. "It's absolutely good news for him. He believes he's innocent and this is a step in that direction. Otherwise they would have already prosecuted him."
The hearings are a way for prosecutors to dispense with cases without going to court. They also create a record in which charges can be filed later if a suspect ends up in trouble again.
Rodriguez said only about 2 percent of his clients were charged criminally after such a hearing.
Bachner, who is based in New York, said he was told Avenatti would likely get a warning that additional misconduct could result in charges.
The Los Angeles district attorney declined to press felony charges in November.
Avenatti is still under court order to stay away from Miniutti and not contact her.