NEW YORK (AP) — California lawyer Michael Avenatti stood to greet 120 prospective jurors who came to a New York courtroom Monday to fill out questionnaires for his trial on charges he tried to extort millions of dollars from Nike.
As they entered, jurors seemed largely unaware of Avenatti as his lawyers and others stood around him. But U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe told the potential jurors that they were being considered to decide a criminal case involving charges of extortion and honest services wire fraud against Avenatti.
The judge later asked Avenatti, 48, to stand and turn around so the possible jurors could see him.
The questionnaire asked jurors if they have heard anything regarding Avenatti and the charges against him. It also asked if they could put whatever they’ve heard aside and decide the case fairly.
In the questionnaires, several dozen potential jurors claimed to have heard virtually nothing about Avenatti despite his frequent guest appearances on cable television programs while he represented porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump.
Others insisted they doubted they could be objective and fair as a juror.
One potential juror, acknowledging being influenced by “Mr. Trump,” called Avenatti “opportunistic.”
And some prospective jurors disliked Nike, with one citing “a bias against Nike for the behemoth organization they are and the manner in which they cater to the elite athletes.”
The trial is set to begin in earnest on Tuesday with formal live questioning of potential jurors who are not disqualified as a result of their answers on the questionnaire. Opening statements, projected to last less than an hour, might begin Tuesday afternoon.
The judge also made a series of rulings to define how the trial expected to last about 2 1/2 weeks will proceed.
In a written decision Monday, he said Avenatti will not be able to force attorney Mark Geragos to testify.
Geragos, a prominent lawyer who had represented former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in litigation involving Nike, had indicated he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right rather than answer questions about his role in negotiations among Nike, Geragos and Avenatti.
The meetings in March 2019 resulted in a federal indictment charging Avenatti with demanding between $15 million and $25 million from Nike to prevent him from publicizing allegations that the sportswear giant had made illicit payments to families of highly ranked high school basketball prospects.
Gardephe, the judge, said he would not allow the mention of Kaepernick at trial because “he is a divisive figure” who has nothing to do with the charges. He also banned “political references” and the names of others who might be distracting to jurors, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Harvey Weinstein, the once prominent Hollywood executive who has denied claims by women that he sexually assaulted them.
Avenatti also faces a trial in April in New York on an indictment charging him with cheating Daniels of proceeds of a book deal and a trial in May in Los Angeles on charges that he ripped off former clients and others of millions of dollars.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and maintained that he was targeted by federal prosecutors in part because of his clashes with Trump. Prosecutors say the claim is wrong.
He wore a suit to court on Monday after he was brought there from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he has been held since he was arrested recently in California on charges that he violated his bail conditions by moving money around improperly.
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
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