Celebrity lawyer Geragos named in Avenatti extortion case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Attorney Mark Geragos has had a long career representing high-profile clients including Michael Jackson, Colin Kaepernick and Jussie Smollett. Now Geragos might need a defense attorney himself after being named in a case accusing lawyer Michael Avenatti of trying to extort Nike.

Geragos is not charged with a crime but two people familiar with the investigation confirmed Monday that he is the unidentified co-conspirator in court papers charging Avenatti with attempting to shake down Nike for $25 million by threatening the company with bad publicity. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not made public by prosecutors.

Geragos, 61, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

For decades the media savvy attorney has defended headline-grabbing cases involving troubled Hollywood stars like Winona Ryder and Chris Brown and wife killer Scott Peterson.

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A longtime CNN contributor, Geragos appeared on the network this month to discuss the case against his client Jussie Smollett, the “Empire” actor accused of fabricating a racist, anti-gay attack in Chicago. Within hours of the extortion case breaking, CNN cut ties with him.

“He is in many ways the face of the legal profession because of his years on CNN,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, where Geragos earned his law degree. “For people who are in the know in Los Angeles, they can name a couple of lawyers, and he is one of them.”

Levinson said she was surprised by Geragos’ connection to the extortion case. He has a solid reputation in the profession and no history of misconduct, she said.

Last year, Geragos helped negotiate a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal between Nike and Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player known for inspiring other players to protest police brutality, racial inequality and other social issues. In announcing the agreement on Twitter, Geragos called Kaepernick an “All American Icon.”

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Geragos’ website bio describes him as “the only lawyer besides Johnnie Cochran ever named ‘Lawyer of the Year’ in both Criminal and Civil arenas.”

He was admitted to the bar in 1983 and made his name in the 1990s when he got an acquittal in an embezzlement case against Susan McDougal, who was previously convicted in the Whitewater scandal involving President Bill Clinton. A few years later he represented Clinton’s brother, Roger Clinton, in a drunken-driving case.

He got probation for Winona Ryder after the actress was convicted by a jury in a felony grand theft case, and for Chris Brown, the singer who pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna.

Perhaps most prominently, Geragos represented Michael Jackson after the pop superstar was accused of child molestation. Jackson ultimately replaced Geragos, saying he wanted a lawyer who would devote his full time to the case.

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Geragos was simultaneously representing Scott Peterson, a California fertilizer salesman who was eventually found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife.

He later represented Jackson in a separate case and settled a lawsuit for $2.5 million against the owner of a charter jet company that secretly recorded the singer while he flew on a private plane.

A Los Angeles native with Armenian roots, he’s been a champion of efforts to have the 1915 Armenian Genocide recognized at the national level.

It’s unclear what his connection is with Avenatti, the bellicose attorney best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against President Donald Trump. Avenatti said he’s confident he’ll be “fully exonerated” after being arrested Monday on charges including extortion and bank and wire fraud.