LOS ANGELES (CN) – The details of former Playboy model Shera Bechard’s lawsuit against top Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy will remain sealed, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge ruled Tuesday during a tense hearing.
Judge Ernest Hiroshige said Tuesday he would respect another judge’s previous ruling, but ordered Bechard to serve defendants with the “unredacted” complaint.
Bechard filed her lawsuit Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported, claiming a breach of contract in a confidentiality agreement involving Broidy. Upon its filing, Judge Ruth Ann Kwan ordered the complaint conditionally sealed for 20 days.
Only Bechard’s current counsel was present when Kwan ruled to conditionally seal Bechard’s complaint.
Broidy, a major donor with ties to the White House, had an affair with Bechard in 2017 and impregnated her. He resigned as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee in April 2018 after revealing he agreed to pay Bechard $1.6 million in installments as part of a confidentiality agreement.
The hush agreement was arranged by President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, who also facilitated a hush agreement between porn star Stormy Daniels, Trump and shell company Essential Consultants. Daniels claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and was paid ahead of the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet.
Bechard also names as defendants her former attorney Keith Davidson – who was also Daniels’ attorney at one time – as well as Daniels’ current attorney Michael Avenatti and his law firm.
Davidson represented both Bechard and Daniels, born Stephanie Clifford, in their respective contract negotiations. He did not respond to a request for comment on Bechard’s lawsuit by press time.
Representing seven news media organizations, Kelli Sager with Davis Wright Tremaine said in court Tuesday that Kwan “only heard from one side” and if there isn’t a “clear, cogent, compelling reason” for the seal it should be lifted.
Avenatti filed an ex parte application to unseal the complaint and, in the same motion, accused Bechard’s attorneys of leaking the complaint to the Wall Street Journal.
Before Hiroshige entered the courtroom, both Avenatti and Bechard’s lawyer Victor O’Connell argued loudly with each other in front of the judge’s bench, calling each other “ridiculous.”
Avenatti said in court he only learned he was a defendant in Bechard’s lawsuit after a Wall Street Journal reporter called for comment on the complaint.
“This was a complete ambush,” Avenatti said. “You can’t sue someone in a very high-profile, public case, disseminate info to the Wall Street Journal, then tie defendant’s hands behind his back and let him twist in the wind.”
Hiroshige denied Avenatti’s request to unseal but ordered O’Connell to serve Avenatti with the sealed complaint.
O’Connell told Hiroshige he was “happy to serve” Avenatti with the complaint but was concerned that doing so could allow Broidy to claim details of his agreement with Bechard are being further exposed.
Avenatti said shortly after a break that he’d received the complaint by email.
“It is under seal and they may not disclose any of the contents of the complaint,” Hiroshige said of the parties.
Bechard’s attorney Peter Stris with Stris & Maher took to Twitter on Tuesday to say Avenatti will “inevitably leak” the complaint.
“Putting lies in legal documents doesn’t make them true. When YOU inevitably leak our complaint, it will be very clear why Judge Kwan provisionally sealed it for 20 days. Your media sideshow is a disgrace,” he wrote.
Bechard lawsuit stems from Broidy’s attorney, Chris Clark, telling the Wall Street Journal that he would stop making installment payments to Bechard.
Through Clark, Broidy claimed Bechard had violated her confidentiality agreement by speaking about the hush contract.
Avenatti appeared to reference the affair in an April 12 post on Twitter, “In last 18 mos, Mr. Cohen negotiated yet another hush NDA, this time on behalf of a prominent GOP donor who had a relationship with a LA woman, impregnated her and then made sure she had an abortion. The deal provided for multiple payments across many months.”
On July 6, Avenatti tweeted in response to being named in Bechard’s complaint, saying he had “no idea” why he would be named in the lawsuit unless Bechard wanted “publicity” from the case.
“Her beef, if any, lies with her own attorney Keith Davidson and Mr. Broidy (or whomever impregnated her),” Avenatti said in the statement.
Shortly after, Stris tweeted: “@MichaelAvenatti you know why you are included in this complaint. You understood that your previous actions might well lead to this when you called our firm and begged us not to sue you several days ago.”
Hiroshige said in court Tuesday that Kwan, whom he said had stepped in for him while he was out of town, was on the “same level” as him as a judge.
“I have no ability to modify [Kwan’s] ruling,” he said, adding the conditional seal was “reasonable” under the circumstances.
Outside the courthouse, Avenatti told reporters he may appeal Hiroshige’s ruling. He said he would not disclose any details of the lawsuit against him in order to respect the conditional sealing of court papers in the case.
Hiroshige told all parties to file briefs by July 13 on whether the motion to seal the complaint should be heard on an expedited briefing schedule.