Michael Avenatti has a new lawyer.
The disgraced California attorney, facing criminal charges of extortion, bank fraud and tax fraud, appeared in court Wednesday, represented by a new lawyer: H. Dean Steward. Steward is a criminal defense lawyer who was in charge of the federal public defender’s office in Orange County, California, for 12 years.
Steward, in San Clemente, California, did not respond to a request for comment.
Avenatti was the lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress performing as Stormy Daniels, who filed a lawsuit claiming she was paid thousands of dollars during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep quiet about a sexual affair with Donald Trump.
But, in March, federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against him in both California and New York. In California, where Avenatti was a practicing attorney, prosecutors have brought 36 counts against him, including stealing more than $12 million from clients in at least four settlements.
At an initial appearance April 1, Avenatti showed up in court with lawyers from Orange County boutique Bienert Katzman. But, on April 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Early appointed a federal public defender for Avenatti’s arraignment.
Wednesday’s hearing came about after prosecutors demanded that Avenatti either retain counsel or have a public defender appointed to him.
The government, prosecutors wrote in a filing earlier this month, “does not believe that there is any valid reason why defendant has yet to resolve his representation issues and is concerned that defendant will seek to use such issues to unnecessarily delay this prosecution.”
“Defendant has a pattern and practice of using delay tactics to avoid responsibility for his conduct,” they wrote.
Prosecutors had asked that Avenatti submit a financial affidavit in the event that he got a public defender. They insisted that Avenatti had the financial means to hire a lawyer, noting statements he made on CNN about a luxury condominium that he was renting for $11,000 a month.
On Tuesday, two new public defenders filed an application on behalf of Avenatti to appoint them under the condition that he would contribute to their legal costs but not submit a financial affidavit “at this stage of the case” due to “the complexity of his financial condition” and the risks of self-incrimination.
“Providing a complete picture of Mr. Avenatti’s finances at this stage of the proceeding would be a demanding and time-intensive effort,” they wrote. They noted that Avenatti was involved in several civil lawsuits, both professionally and personally. Further, they wrote, the two forfeiture counts in the criminal case in California made it difficult for Avenatti to hire private counsel.
U.S. District Judge James Selna of the Central District of California denied the request.
Steward has represented corporate executives and high-profile law enforcement officers in the Los Angeles area. He is best known for representing Lori Drew, the Missouri mom convicted in what was considered the first cyberbullying criminal trial. Drew allegedly set up a fake MySpace account to harass a 13-year-old girl who later committed suicide. A federal judge dismissed Drew’s convictions in 2009.
Steward’s hiring means that the June 4 trial date in Avenatti’s California case is likely to change.
It’s unclear whether Steward represents Avenatti in separate criminal charges that federal prosecutors have brought against him in New York. Those include attempting to extort more than $20 million out of athletic apparel company Nike Inc.
In that case, according to prosecutors, Avenatti had asked to extend the deadline for the government to file an indictment until he could retain counsel. U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman of the Southern District of New York granted that continuance to May 28.