How Michael Avenatti’s Publicity Hounding Might Actually Be Hurting Kids Seeking U.S. Asylum

How Michael Avenatti’s Publicity Hounding Might Actually Be Hurting Kids Seeking U.S. Asylum

To Michael Avenatti, representing illegal entrants was just yet another way to challenge President Trump. His crusade could be harming the people he claims to be protecting.
Caroline Court
By

For months now, lawyers have been questioning Michael Avenatti’s motives and whether he has his client Stormy Daniels’ best interests in mind. Many, including me, always felt his publicity-seeking has been more about Avenatti’s huge ego than anything else.

Before emerging as a lawyer beloved by the Donald Trump resistance, Avenatti had his fair share of legal problems, including the bankruptcy of his prior firm, a lawsuit by a pregnant former employee alleging sex discrimination for which he has yet to pay the judgment (first reported by The Daily Caller), and an outstanding $4.9 million tax lien in connection with unpaid withholdings for employees of a coffee company he purchased.

When Avenatti waded into the immigration debate, it was worrisome to anyone who knows anything about immigration law. Generally speaking, lawyers are not jacks-of-all-trades. Most lawyers specialize in certain areas of law. It’s impossible to be an “expert” in every area of the law. Immigration law is particularly complicated and not something you can just dabble in.

From Avenatti’s standpoint, representing individuals and children who were separated for attempting to illegally enter the country was just yet another way to challenge President Trump. He took to Twitter to announce that he was “mobilizing resources on the ground” and will continue to release “countless images, video, and audio.” Imagine releasing a tape of a crying child for publicity. Quite honestly, I can’t.

Jeopardizing His Own Clients’ Cases and Even Safety

When Avenatti posted confidential client information online, many immigration lawyers were outraged. On Twitter, he posted a document with his client’s full “A number” (an identifying number for immigration purposes) and other identifying information. These made it clear to anyone reading—including the government of the person’s birth country—that this individual was seeking asylum. This is a major no-no for obvious reasons.

Indeed, experienced immigration lawyers who spotted this major breach of client private information have indicated they have to report Avenatti to the State Bar of California, where Avenatti is licensed to practice law. Certain states are “mandatory reporting” states. That means if a lawyer becomes aware of potential unethical behavior by an attorney he or she must report it.

Avenatti’s craziness doesn’t stop there. Several immigration lawyers believe Avenatti is agreeing to “voluntary departures” for children for publicity’s sake. Voluntary departure is a process whereby the individual chooses to return to his or her home country and forgo any proceedings. While Avenatti’s tweets make it seem like he’s doing God’s work reuniting children with their parents, he could very well being doing real damage.

Immigration lawyer Matthew Kolken tweeted that he believed Avenatti was taking “voluntary departure for refugees with bona fide asylum claims. If plain language if true he is facilitating their self-deportation.”

Immigration attorney Diego Aranda Teixeira told me that “the information that is publicly available raises the question of whether Mr. Avenatti has just set up a voluntary departure conveyor belt that may have long-standing negative consequences for these individuals, as well-meaning as Mr. Avenatti may be.”

In essence, Avenatti is helping remove children who might otherwise be granted U.S. asylum. Kolken further explained: “Asylum isn’t the only relief available to these children. But the layman doesn’t know that or how to navigate the complexities of US immigration law. Part timers in immigration court are doing irreversible harm but they are too inexperienced to know it.”

Without seeing the full files, it’s not possible to claim with any certainty if these are bona fide asylum claims. However, such sloppy lawyering for publicity is truly horrific and yet another reason Avenatti continues to be an embarrassment to lawyers everywhere.

No Lawyer Can Competently Manage This Many Cases

It also appears Avenatti has taken on an absurdly large number of cases. He confirmed to Yahoo News that he has taken on nearly 80 immigrant parents and 100 children.  While in theory that seems nice, it’s not. Avenatti has taken on a case load that would be insane even for an experienced immigration lawyer who understands the intricacies of the law.

One attorney tweeted: “Also, I don’t understand how Avenatti can take 60+ pro bono immigration clients without experience in this area, even with co-counsel. The investment of time associated with issues of family reunification + detention issues beyond the asylum claims support a lower caseload.”

In defending his actions, Avenatti told a member of the press the children’s parents already had credible fear interviews and were deported. This just highlights Avenatti’s inexperience in this area. As attorney Aranda Teixeira responded on Twitter: “Not a good reason to just decide to get voluntary departure for the kids. Maybe the credible fear interview was incorrectly decided. Maybe there was a due process problem. Maybe the kids have different claims than the parents, so it’s irrelevant what happened to the parents.”

Lest there by any doubt why Avenatti is doing this, one need only look at his Twitter feed. He posted pictures of him and a child, and boasted how he took custody of one child and took another home to Guatemala. He mentions one child’s first name throughout his tweets. That’s just wrong.

In my experience, even when filing public court documents the names of minor children are redacted or only initials used, to protect their identity. But not with Michael. He does whatever he wants. He even posted a picture of himself and the minor child standing at the United “Premier Access” counter at the airport. There really is no better way to describe all this than distasteful.

A deeper dive reveals Avenatti may have put the child’s family in danger by drawing attention to them. Avenatti specifically tweeted about assisting in the return of a child to his mother in Guatemala. The mother claims she fled due to growing violence in the country. Thus Avenatti’s actions may have made the mother and child a target for anyone in Guatemala who does not take kindly to her claim of violence in the country. So in addition to possibly waiving his clients’ rights to relief in America, he may also be exposing them to danger.

Looks Like a Hack, Smells Like a Hack, Must Be a…

Immigration lawyers have tweeted at Avenatti to ask about his shoddy lawyering. His response has been to block them on Twitter. Yahoo News spoke to Avenatti about the concerns experienced immigration attorneys have raised, and the response was so Avenatti it’s amazing.

He dismissed his critics as “jealous and petty” and their criticism of him as “absurd” and ridiculous.” He called the attorneys “hacks” who know nothing about his cases. It’s truly unbelievable. These attorneys are far from hacks, and Avenatti’s response to their legitimate criticism is telling.

Earlier this month, Avenatti tweeted, “Being President of the Untied States isn’t about form – photo ops, golf, tweets, and campaign rallies. It’s about substance. Or at least it used to be….” The same goes for attorneys, sir. Representing individuals in difficult situations is about the work, and definitely not about the “photo ops” or the “tweets.” Maybe heed your own advice?

Perhaps it’s better if I speak in Avenatti’s language: basta.

@beyondreasdoubt is a criminal defense attorney in New York City. You can find her musings on Twitter.

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