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Michael Avenatti, now representing separated migrant families, denies he’s chasing the limelight

UPDATED: Thu., June 21, 2018

Adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, left, speaks to members of the media while attorney Michael Avenatti listens outside Federal Court in New York on Mon April 16, 2018. (Victor J. Blue / Bloomberg)
Adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, left, speaks to members of the media while attorney Michael Avenatti listens outside Federal Court in New York on Mon April 16, 2018. (Victor J. Blue / Bloomberg)
By Callum Borchers Washington Post

Stormy Daniels has slipped from national headlines in recent days, as Trump administration breakups of migrant families dominate news coverage, but the porn star’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, has remained in the spotlight. That’s because Avenatti has some new clients – about 60 of the parents whose separations from their children are the No. 1 news story in America.

Breitbart News, among the media’s most Trump-friendly outlets, has portrayed Avenatti’s expanding caseload as a ploy to stay relevant. The New York Post suggested the same, albeit more subtly, reporting that Avenatti has “inserted himself” into the biggest story in the country.

“This argument that somehow I’m chasing the limelight is a bunch of nonsense, and it’s offensive – highly offensive – to me,” Avenatti said Thursday by phone from Phoenix, where he planned to meet with four teenagers who have been separated from their parents.

“Look, I didn’t need any additional fame or limelight beyond what I already had,” he added.

Avenatti said he did not seek to become involved in family separation cases but was contacted by a California family that asked him to represent a relative, a woman who had lost custody of her child upon reaching the U.S. border.

“I then sent out a tweet, stating that I was going to be getting involved in this fight,” he said.

Michael Avenatti tweeted “If anyone knows of a parent that has had their child taken from them at the border and not returned, please have them contact me as I am entering this fight. This outrageous conduct must be brought to an immediate end….”

Avenatti acknowledged that his high-profile work for Daniels may have contributed to the demand for his services, which he said he is providing for the migrant families pro bono. Avenatti’s typical hourly rate, he said, is $1,100.

“I have a lot of notoriety now because of the Stormy Daniels case,” he said. “I was less well known before, outside of legal circles.”

An executive order President Donald Trump signed Wednesday will allow parents and children apprehended at the border and accused of trying to enter the country illegally to be held together. Trump and other administration officials previously claimed, falsely, that splitting up families was required by law and that only Congress could end the practice. In reality, the Justice Department triggered mass breakups in April by implementing what it called a “zero-tolerance policy.”

The president’s order applies to future detentions of migrant families but does not include a plan to reunify those already separated. Avenatti said his aim is to reunite parents and children split up over the past two months, whom he described as “in limbo.”

Asked whether, given his sudden influx of clients, Avenatti can devote sufficient attention to Daniels, who is suing Trump for defamation and to invalidate a non-disclosure agreement in which she pledged not to speak publicly about her claim of an extramarital affair, Avenatti said he has a team of about a dozen with whom he can share the load.

“I am blessed to have an incredible staff of other highly competent paralegals, lawyers and others that I have surrounded myself with,” Avenatti said. “This is not a one-man band, by any stretch.”

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