Michael Avenatti used to be the golden boy of George Washington University’s law school, having been awarded its Alumni Achievement Award in 2010, served on its dean’s board of advisers and been the subject of a fawning profile in its alumni magazine.
He also sponsored a $250,000 endowed scholarship and paid to renovate a room for a moot court. Since 2003, the school had given a newly minted law graduate the Michael J. Avenatti Award for Excellence in Pre-Trial Advocacy.
That was, until this year.
The school that used to celebrate Avenatti seems to be trying to scrub him from memory now that he has been convicted of extortion and faces two more trials on charges of bilking clients.
Though it kept the scholarship and the award last year, even after Avenatti’s indictments were announced, his conviction and trips in and out of jail appear to have forced GW Law to sever those links.
The Avenatti Award was quietly expunged from this year’s program and was reborn as the “Graduation Award for Excellence in Pre-Trial Advocacy.” The change was perhaps made easier by the coronavirus crisis, which canceled this year’s commencement ceremony.
The school won’t say what it is doing with the Avenatti scholarship money.
“Thanks again for reaching out. We don’t have any additional information at this time,” Kara Tershel, the school’s senior associate director for strategic communications and marketing, said in an email brushing aside questions.
The Avenatti scholarship is aimed at students in GW’s night school, officially known as the “evening division.” That was what Avenatti attended in the late 1990s. He earned his law degree in 2000 and, as he proudly announces on his law firm biography, graduated at the top of his class.
As his law career took off, he deepened his ties to the school, endowing the Avenatti award and the scholarship and paying to refurbish the Jacob Burns Moot Court Room. He joined the board of advisers a decade ago, though he appears to have dropped off by the 2014-2015 school year.
Avenatti became a household name with the rise of President Trump.
He represented porn actress Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump and who was paid hush money, though the president denies the affair. Avenatti also found his way into the confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. After more than 200 appearances on CNN and MSNBC, he explored a run for president.
It all unraveled with his arrests last year.
He has been convicted of attempting to extort Nike and faces two more trials: one on charges of bilking the adult entertainer, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and another, the most serious case, in which he is accused of defrauding clients and laundering money to try to keep his other business interests afloat.
Avenatti is out on a coronavirus reprieve bail, though the Justice Department says he has violated the terms of that bail and a judge will have to decide whether to send him back behind bars.
The Justice Department says he used a computer with access to the internet to write his own defense briefs.
Lawyers say it’s always a bad idea for a lawyer to write his own defense because he lacks the emotional distance necessary, and in this case using the internet would violate the terms of his release.
Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington who teaches ethics, among other classes, said Avenatti’s fall should be a caution to institutions that honor living people.
“There are tons and tons of examples of embarrassing prizes and awards vanishing in the middle of the night, never to be seen or heard from again,” he said.
Art galleries around the globe are pondering how to handle buildings and exhibits named after the Sackler family, which is closely tied to Purdue Pharma. The drugmaker produces the opioid OxyContin, which has been a major part of the soaring addiction crisis this century.
As for Avenatti, Mr. Tuttle said, he is reluctant to go back and see whether the disgraced lawyer took his ethics course.
“It’s just one of those things you don’t want to know,” he said. “I would be so humiliated to find out he did that.”
Whatever his legal problems, the Avenatti Award is a glittering prize to some past winners.
The Times found several who still list the award on their corporate law firm biographies. The Times reached out to several this month but none responded. Nor did they remove the award from those biography pages.
Mr. Tuttle said, “People ought to review their resumes every once in a while and see if there are things that don’t look so good right now.”
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