LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday denied a request by former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen for a gag order on porn star Stormy Daniel’s lawyer Michael Avenatti, finding Cohen can’t show Avenatti’s media grandstanding will hamper chances for a fair trial.
In a 7-page order, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero said less restrictive alternatives exist and that gag orders are limited to when attorney speech is “likely to have a materially prejudicial effect.”
Cohen had claimed Avenatti’s appearances on news programs and his frequent posts on Twitter would prejudice a jury hearing Daniels’ lawsuit against President Donald Trump and Essential Consultants, a company Cohen set up solely to pay Daniels $130,000 ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Daniels says Trump and Cohen paid the money in exchange for her silence about an affair she had with the president in 2006. Trump has consistently denied the affair took place.
But Otero said that even if Daniels succeeds in her legal efforts to invalidate the nondisclosure agreement with Trump, Cohen would suffer “no identifiable loss” and Essential Consultants may even recoup the $130,000 paid to Daniels. Daniels says she’ll return the money if the nondisclosure agreement is voided.
Furthermore, Otero said “it’s clear” that Cohen less concerned about Avenatti’s comments in the Daniels case than he is about the effect of negative publicity in a potential criminal case against him in New York, which doesn’t justify issuing a gag order.
Otero warned Avenatti to adhere to local professional rules of conduct, however.
“If Mr. Avenatti’s extrajudicial statements improperly violate these rules, he will be subject to discipline,” Otero wrote.
Avenatti and Cohen’s attorney Brent Blakely did not respond to separate requests for comment by press time.
On Twitter, Avenatti said Otero’s order blocks Cohen’s “attempt to silence me” and prevent him from commenting on the case.
In the same order, Otero extended a stay in the case by 45 days, citing the “unusual nature” of the ongoing criminal investigation of Cohen in the Southern District of New York. Federal agents there raided his apartment and office, seizing thousands of documents and cellphones.
Given that U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood appointed a special master to determine which evidence in the New York case is privileged, “the court agrees that a brief extension of the stay is warranted while the scope of the criminal investigation is narrowed down,” Otero wrote.
The previous 90-day stay expired July 27.
Blakely had asked for an additional 90 days because Trump Organization official Allen Weisselberg has been subpoenaed to testify in the Cohen investigation in New York and there would be an overlap of evidence with the Los Angeles case.
Otero set a scheduling conference for Sept. 10.