NEW YORK – A high-profile lawyer was cleared Thursday to defend a wealthy heiress in a New York sex-trafficking case despite reports linking him to an alleged extortion plot by Michael Avenatti.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis approved Clare Bronfman's decision to hire Mark Geragos a day after she had a fainting spell in federal court in Brooklyn as the judge began to question her about her choice.
"Honestly, I was scared yesterday," Bronfman told the judge. "This whole situation has been very stressful."
Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune, has pleaded not guilty to charges accusing her of bank-rolling a cult-like organization that brainwashed and branded women who served as sex slaves.
Bronfman said she wasn't deterred by reports saying Geragos is the unidentified co-conspirator mentioned in court papers charging Avenatti of trying to extort Nike for millions of dollars. The judge had warned her that her lawyer's "potential criminal exposure" could create a conflict.
The judge also quizzed Bronfman on whether she was aware that Avenatti joined Geragos at a meeting with prosecutors where Avenatti offered them information in exchange for "a benefit." She responded that she knew about it, but that Avenatti only acted briefly as a "consultant."
Avenatti, best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels, has denied the extortion charges. Geragos declined to speak about them on Thursday.
Geragos' clients have included Michael Jackson, Colin Kaepernick and Jussie Smollett.
This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Avenatti.
This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of Geragos in the third paragraph.