A defense attorney detailed in a Monday evening letter the extent of the legal peril that former Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti faces. The letter was only three pages long, but it said a lot.
Avenatti was taken into custody last week in California for allegedly violating his bail conditions. That happened at a disciplinary hearing before the California State Bar Court. This is the necessary context for understanding why attorney Scott A. Srebnick wrote a letter to Judge Paul Gardephe “concerning Mr. Avenatti’s prison conditions” in New York:
We write to inform the Court of Mr. Avenatti’s conditions as a pretrial detainee and to request that the Court inquire into his custody status and direct the Bureau of Prisons to consider his immediate removal to general population. Under Mr. Avenatti’s current conditions of confinement, we cannot effectively prepare for trial and Mr. Avenatti cannot meaningfully assist in his defense.
As the Court is aware, Mr. Avenatti was remanded into custody last week, at the request of the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, on the theory that Mr. Avenatti violated his bail conditions in the CDCA because of financial transactions that prompted the prosecutors there to claim that he was an ‘economic danger.’ There was no allegation that Mr. Avenatti was a risk of flight or that he posed a physical danger to anyone or to himself.
Here’s what else we learned from the letter.
- Avenatti was flown to New York on Friday, Jan. 17 after spending three nights in solitary confinement the Santa Ana jail.
- Avenatti has been held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan, the federal jail where infamous pedophile and accused child sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died in August.
- Avenatti cell in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) was “reportedly once occupied” by Mexican drug lord El Chapo, infamous in his own right.
- The floor that cell is on “houses individuals charged with terrorism offenses.”
- “He has been locked down for 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement, except for attorney visits and two medical exams”; “There is an officer outside his cell 24 hours a day and two cameras focused on him”; “permitted two social calls upon arriving at the facility, but none sense”; “the temperature in his cell feels like it is in the mid-40s. He is forced to sleep with three blankets”; “He has not been permitted to shave.”
- Avenatti’s lawyer says Avenatti “wants to have an active role in his own defense,” but that the current detainment situation makes that infeasible.
- Avenatti has not “reviewed any of the new discovery” that the government produced has since last week.
Srebnick asked the judge that Avenatti be moved to general population, “where he has the same ability to confer with counsel as other pretrial detainees.”
“While we understand that there may be hypersensitivity about Mr. Avenatti given the profile of the case, and recent issues at the institution, the situation is truly hampering our ability to prepare for trial,” Srebnick said, seemingly alluding to the Epstein death when mentioning “recent issues.”
They’re asking that Avenatti have access to a computer so he can review discovery, be allowed to meet with his lawyers, and have social call privileges other pretrial detainees get.
The judge has ordered the government to explain by 2 p.m. on Tuesday why the “current conditions of confinement are in place.”
You can read the rest of the letter below.
[Image via Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images]
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