Former attorney Michael Avenatti will represent himself for the remainder of his criminal trial where he is accused of impersonating former client Stormy Daniels. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 25 (UPI) -- A judge on Tuesday ruled to allow former attorney Michael Avenatti to represent himself as he faces criminal fraud charges involving his former client Stormy Daniels.
Avenatti had been appointed taxpayer-funded counsel from the Federal Defenders of New York as he faces charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for allegedly impersonating Daniels and convincing her literary agent to send him nearly $300,000 in publisher's payments intended for her.
During the trial Tuesday, Avenatti asked Judge Jesse Furman for the opportunity to represent himself after what he described as a "breakdown" with his attorneys.
The request came before jurors returned to the courtroom following a lunch break. Avenatti said he and his lawyers disagreed on how they would question Judy Regnier, a former office manager for Avenatti's firm in 2018.
Regnier testified that the firm had been experiencing financial troubles at the time of the alleged fraud.
Furman agreed to allow Avenatti to represent himself after questioning him about the decision and explaining the risks, including noting that he had little experience with criminal cases.
"Make your choice with your eyes wide open," Furman wrote.
The decision means Avenatti will likely cross-examination several of his former employees as well as Daniels.
Avenatti previously requested a two-week delay of the court proceedings, arguing that the use of COVID-19 masks would prevent him from getting a fair trial because witnesses would be disguised by "the veil of a face mask."
In 2018, Avenatti represented Daniels, an adult film star born Stephanie Clifford, as she alleged she had a sexual relationship with former President Donald Trump and received a $130,000 payment from Trump's former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen to not make the relationship public.
Last year, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for his attempt to extort more than $20 million from Nike.