Michael Avenatti gets mistrial in California embezzlement case

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By Jan Wolfe and Jonathan Stempel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday declared a mistrial in the government's embezzlement case against Michael Avenatti, giving the already convicted celebrity lawyer a temporary reprieve as he defends against a slew of criminal charges.

U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana, California,said Avenatti was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors had failed to turn over relevant billing-related evidence.

Avenatti, 50, who is representing himself, had argued that the evidence might be exculpatory, and that the failure to turn it over undermined his ability to mount a defense.

The mistrial was confirmed in an email from the office of Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy Wilkison in Los Angeles.

Selna found no evidence of intentional misconduct by prosecutors, according to The Recorder and Law360.

He set a tentative Oct. 12 date for another trial, but Avenatti may argue he cannot be retried because of double jeopardy. The trial had lasted one month.

"Today is a good day for every person who believes that the Constitution means something," Avenatti said in a statement provided by his standby lawyer Dean Steward. "Laws and rules matter."

Avenatti was being tried on 10 wire fraud charges for allegedly embezzling nearly $10 million of settlement proceeds from five clients.

He faces 26 additional charges in California, including bankruptcy, bank and tax fraud.

Avenatti shot from obscurity to fame in 2018 representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against then-U.S. President Donald Trump, becoming a cable news fixture and flirting with his own White House run.

His legal career ground to a halt in March 2019 when federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged him with trying to extort up to $25 million from Nike Inc, and California prosecutors announced their criminal case.

Avenatti is appealing his conviction and 2-1/2-year prison sentence in the Nike case. He also faces a trial next year in Manhattan for allegedly cheating Daniels out of proceeds from a book contract. Avenatti has pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)

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