Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti has turned up the heat on another target — his client's first lawyer

  • Adult-film star Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is increasing the heat on Keith Davidson, his client's first attorney.
  • He and his clients say Davidson was not working in their best interests.
  • Rather, they say, he was working in tandem with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
  • Avenatti published a pair of emails from Cohen to Davidson last week.
  • "The relationship between these two 'opposing' attorneys has been anything but traditional," Avenatti told Business Insider in an email. "Significant questions remain."


Before Michael Avenatti, there was Keith Davidson:

  • Davidson served as adult-film actress Stormy Daniels' previous attorney, negotiating a $130,000 hush money payment with President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen just prior to the 2016 presidential election.
  • Davidson also represented Playboy model Karen McDougal, negotiating a similar $150,000 payment for her alleged affair with Trump Federal investigators obtained documents related to the McDougal settlement in the raids on Cohen's home, office, and hotel room, according to The New York Times.
  • And Davidson's name comes up again in a third Cohen-related settlement — with Shera Bechard, a Playboy playmate who entered into a $1.6 million agreement brokered by Davidson and Cohen to promise that she would not reveal an affair with Republican financier Elliot Broidy. Broidy said in a statement that he retained Cohen after Davidson recommended him.

As the legal scrutiny surrounding Cohen intensifies, Avenatti has sought to raise questions about Davidson's conduct and whose interests he had at heart.

 

'The relationship between these two 'opposing' attorneys has been anything but traditional'

At the heart of the controversy involving Davidson is whether or not he was zealously advocating for his own clients — or if he was working to actually provide the best possible outcome to Cohen and his clients, as Daniels and McDougal allege.

RELATED: Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels hush payment scandal

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Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to the media outside US Federal Court on April 16, 2018, in Lower Manhattan, New York. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. Some of the documents reportedly relate to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago, and ex Playboy model Karen McDougal who also claims an affair. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, leaves federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Michael Cohen's attorney Todd Harrison arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (centre) leaves federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Michael Cohen's attorney Todd Harrison is pictured outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York City, New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti is pictured though a window as he arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and attorney Michael Avenatti arrive at Federal Court in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 16, 2018. Daniels claims she had sex with Donald Trump in 2006 and took a $130,000 hush payment shortly before the 2016 election from lawyer Michael Cohen. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Trumps lawyer Michael Cohen exits the US Federal Court on April 16, 2018, in Lower Manhattan, New York. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. Some of the documents reportedly relate to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago, and ex Playboy model Karen McDougal who also claims an affair. / AFP PHOTO / EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, (C) also known as Stormy Daniels arrives for a court hearing at the US Courthouse in New York on April 16, 2018. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti(C), arrives for a court hearing at the US Courthouse in New York on April 16, 2018. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Michael Avenatti (R), attorney for Stormy Daniels, arrives for a court proceeding regarding the search warrants served on President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, at the United States District Court Southern District of New York, April 13, 2018 in New York City. Cohen and his lawyers are asking the court to block Justice Department officials from reading documents and materials related to his relationship with President Donald Trump that they believe should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Officials with the FBI, armed with a search warrant, raided Cohen's office and two private residences earlier in the week. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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"The relationship between these two 'opposing' attorneys has been anything but traditional," Michael Avenatti, Daniels new attorney, told Business Insider in an email. "Significant questions remain."

Last week, Avenatti published a pair of emails between Cohen and Davidson exchanged last month.

In one email, Cohen messaged Davidson just days after the FBI raids to say he "lost all my contacts as I had to get a new phone."

"Please send me all your contact info," Cohen wrote, adding, "Let me know how you want to communicate."

In the second email, which was sent from Cohen to Davidson in February, Cohen writes that it is his "understanding that Ms. Clifford has or is seeking the advice of additional counsel regarding the above matter," referring to Daniels' real name, Stephanie Clifford.

Cohen added that Davidson "under no circumstances should forward" certain information he described in the email to anyone without Cohen's written consent.

Avenatti told The Daily Mail that he "demanded" the emails from Davidson when asked how he obtained them. Davidson did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider for this story.

 

'He's in a hell of a pickle'

That's what Mitchell Epner, a former assistant US attorney for the District of New Jersey and an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich, told Business Insider of Davidson.

"As an attorney, you have a duty to be a zealous advocate for your client, and if what's been alleged by Avenatti is true and Davidson and Cohen were colluding to sell out Stephanie Clifford to have Davidson pocket a very large sum, that is taking your law license in your hands," he said.

Davidson previously denied any insinuation of unethical or inappropriate behavior. An attorney must disclose any such conflict to a client. 

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesDavidson was contacted by federal investigators as a part of the Southern District of New York's ongoing criminal probe into Cohen, who has not been charged with a crime. A spokesman for Davidson, Dave Wedge, told The Washington Post that the attorney was asked to provide "certain limited electronic information" to investigators.

"He has done so and will continue to cooperate to the fullest extent possible under the law," Wedge told The Post in a statement.

Avenatti has zeroed in on the attorney in recent weeks, culminating with his publishing of Cohen's recent email correspondence with Davidson.

"I don't think there's any question that the relationship between Keith Davidson and Michael Cohen was not arm's length," Avenatti said on NBC's "Meet the Press" earlier this month. "It's unclear as to exactly how close they were. But that was not a traditional relationship among two adversaries."

 

Davidson denies he worked to bolster Cohen's interests over his clients'

Davidson gave an extensive interview with CNN last month, in which he said he believes Daniels and McDougal were telling the truth about their alleged affairs with Trump. But he said the details of the deals he helped negotiate have not been fully disclosed.

During that interview, which took place just days before the Cohen raids, Davidson said he was contacted by Cohen, who encouraged him to reveal what he knew about Daniels and McDougal and their agreements.

"He suggested that it would be appropriate for me to go out into the media and spill my guts," Davidson said, before saying that an ethics attorney told him it would not be wise.

"I read each of the ladies' complaints and pleadings. ... The recitation of the facts that are contained within those pleadings I do not agree with, and I look forward to an opportunity in an appropriate forum to discuss them," Davidson said.

Davidson's law license was suspended twice within the past decade: Once for 90-days by the State Bar of California for four counts of misconduct in three separate cases, the other for nine days after he failed to pay bar membership fees. 

Of that first suspension, Davidson told CNN he "was spread a little too thin."

In 2011, Davidson represented Daniels in her effort to have details of her alleged Trump affair removed from a gossip website called TheDirty.com. That was when Davidson first spoke to Cohen, he told CNN.

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