“Celebrity” attorney Michael Avenatti, who is perhaps best known for his representation of actress Stormy Daniels and his abrasive style of commentary, is facing a new battle: He’s trying to keep his license to practice law.
The California State Bar has moved to place the attorney on “involuntary inactive” status over allegations that he embezzled money from several clients by diverting settlement money that should have gone to them to his personal accounts. He’s also accused of trying to extort millions from the major manufacturer Nike. All together, he’s facing criminal charges that include embezzlement, extortion, wire fraud, conspiracy, identity theft and sending interstate communications in order to commit extortion.
This case holds an interesting lesson for other attorneys because Avenatti currently maintains that he is innocent of all charges and has yet to be convicted — but the Bar clearly doesn’t operate under the same rules that attorneys are used to dealing with in the regular court system. In a normal court case, a defendant is “innocent until proven guilty.” Where the State Bar is concerned, you can be guilty of a punishable offense even if you aren’t convicted of an actual crime.
In this situation, the move to place the attorney in inactive status is seen as a preemptive measure with the likelihood that he will actually be disbarred — which is even more serious — in the future. The Bar is concerned with protecting not only the integrity of the profession but potential clients, so they often react harshly to even the appearance of impropriety on an attorney’s part.
If you find yourself facing any kind of criminal charges, be aware that your license to practice could be at risk long before your criminal case runs its course. It’s generally wisest to seek experienced legal counsel if you’re accused of any kind of ethics violation.