I’m building up to a rather interesting question – what makes somebody unfit to testify?
The twist in play here is that an argument is being made that simply holding a few unusual beliefs is sufficient. First, let’s play catchup.
The name “Stormy Daniels” will be familiar. She became famous for being “friendly” with you know who. No doubt being concerned that she appeared to lack clothing, he rather famously tapped into his “Christian compassion” and made arrangements via his lawyer for her to receive a financial contribution. Being humble, he of course strove to keep this donation a secret.
Well yes, no matter how some might try to spin it, the beloved one of the evangelicals, their messiah, was caught with his pants down … literally.
Briefly, the facts are as follows:
- The affair happened in 2006.
- In October 2016, just before the election, Michael Cohen, arranged a payment of $130,000 in exchange for her silence. This apparently also involved an NDA.
- In August 2018, Cohen was sentenced to jail on a series of charges, one of which was his breach of campaign finance laws – this payment.
- Subsequent to all this, she went to court to sue Cohen and Trump via a series of about three different lawsuits. She won the first – to have the NDA dismissed; she lost the second in which she claimed she had been defamed; in the third she argued that Cohen had conspired with her previous lawyer, Keith Davidson. That was settled in 2019.
In 2018 Michael Avenatti represented her and filed the various lawsuits.
Yes, that Avenatti, the same lawyer who in September 2018 accused Kavanaugh of spiking drinks at parties as part of the supreme court nomination. His client, Julie Swetnick, later repudiated this by pointing out that Avenatti had misrepresented her allegations. Avenatti is currently in jail, not because of this, but because of many other counts that include tax evasion, extortion, fraud, and embezzlement.
In March 2019 Daniels fired Avenatti. A few weeks later, Avenatti faced the charges that resulted in him going to jail.
Daniels became a witness in a federal case against Avenatti
Her testimony was that he stole $300,000 from her. This was money that had been advanced for an autobiography she was writing.
This is where the interesting twist comes into play.
Avenatti attempted to discredit Daniels. In a court filing, we learn that Avenatti claimed Daniels …
“has made any number of bizarre, fantastical claims that call into serious question her truthfulness, mental state, and ability to competently testify.”
She believes, like a lot of people do, a great deal of supernatural stuff.
Now there is the question – If you believe crazy paranormal things that are not actually true and have no evidence at all, does that mean you are mentally unfit to testify?
This was a jury trial, so Avenatti was attempting to persuade them.
Her thoughts on this approach were as follows …
“Who cares what I believe in, who cares what my spirituality is, where I work, what I’ve done,” Daniels told CNN’s Brianna Keilar.”Theft is theft, forgery is forgery — it really shouldn’t matter, it seemed pretty cut and dry”
Is this a viable legal move?
There is no legal precedent for a supernatural belief being successfully weaponized in court like this. I may of course be wrong about that, I’ve simply not found any.
There are multiple layers perhaps …
- Is this person mentally ill?
- Is this person a credible reliable witness? –
It is the latter that is in play here.
If indeed you are an eyewitness to something, then your credibility as a witness is fair game, but like this?
Such an approach is potentially terrifying.
Yes, people hold weird beliefs. Most humans do. Think about Christian belief. The claim is that a supernatural entity that is outside of time and space created the entire universe, gave birth to itself so that it could sacrifice itself to itself, all because a talking snake tricked an ancestor into eating some fruit.
That sounds insane, totally loopy, yet vast numbers accept this as “truth”.
Are they all insane?
Well no, of course not. People inherit cultural beliefs and often practice them without really giving too much thought to any of them. Nobody would seriously doubt the credibility of anybody that maintains a religious tradition, or for that matter, as is the case here, a non-traditional set of beliefs.
In an age when the more traditional mainstream beliefs are being abandoned, many are turning to alternative beliefs. In other words, belief in the paranormal is rather normal for many.
Is this a dirty lawyer using a nasty trick?
In one sense yes, but in another, not really. Both sides in any case will, and often do, play every card available. It is then up to the courts to sort it out.
How did this play out?
His attempt to play this card fell flat and failed, he might have been selling, but the jury was not buying. Michael Avenatti was convicted of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for stealing from Stormy Daniels.
Courts generally don’t let such factors come into play.
It is still, I must admit a fascinating little twist in the ongoing Avenatti saga.
Next up will be his attempt to appeal this.
Not quite all
A side story here is that the jury became very bogged down. They sent to note to the Judge asking for help …
“We have one juror who is refusing to look at evidence and is acting on a feeling. We need assistance on moving forward. She does not believe she needs to prove her side using evidence and refuses to show us how she has come to her conclusion,” the note said
“Please help us move forward not going on any evidence, all emotions and does not understand this job of a jury,” the note added, with the word “please” underlined.
Avenatti tried to leverage this by arguing for a mistrial because they were deadlocked.
The judge was not having it. He brought the jury in and lectured them on their responsibilities and that they should consider the evidence only and not “to be swayed by sympathy or emotion“.
That did the trick and so they reached a verdict.