'The Trials of Michael Avenatti': Stormy Daniels' ex-lawyer successfully sued Trump's 'The Apprentice' in 2005
Although Michael Avenatti became a household name after he took on President Donald Trump and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen after the POTUS reportedly had an affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels, whom Avenatti represented, and who was paid a sum of $130,000 to stay mum about the tryst, It was not the first time that Avenatti had faced Trump in a courtroom.
A new season of CNBC's 'American Greed' delves into 'The Trials of Michael Avenatti,' a part of which looks back at his origin and how he found his way to ultimate fame before bringing about his own downfall. Avenatti had been a thorn in Trump's side for a number of years. Before he started his own law firm, he worked at Greene Broillet & Wheeler, a law firm in California. As part of a team of lawyers from the firm, Avenatti helped sue Trump for allegedly stealing the idea of his hit reality TV show on NBC, "The Apprentice." The case was settled.
Avenatti’s biography on his now-defunct website once noted that while at the Los Angeles firm, he worked on “a successful idea theft lawsuit involving the [NBC] reality show ‘The Apprentice’ and its producer, Mark Burnett, as well as Donald Trump.” He went on to form the law firm Eagan Avenatti in 2007.
According to Businesswire, "Mark Bethea filed a complaint for damages for breach of implied-in-fact contract and breach of confidence on March 14, 2005. He claims that Mark Burnett used his idea for a reality-based television show called 'C.E.O.' and turned it into 'The Apprentice' which first aired in January 2004 on NBC television." Bethea and his marketing/production company, Velocity Entertainment Group, were jointly being represented by "Browne Greene, Scott Carr and Michael J. Avenatti." Trump was not named in the list of defendants.
Bethea claimed that in August 2000, that he conceived a reality television show idea titled "C.E.O." in which contestants would compete against one another in a "corporate environment for promotions, perks and benefits and which proposed Donald Trump as its host." At the age of 44, he even registered a 5-page treatment of his idea with the Writers Guild of America in Los Angeles on August 30, 2000. The following year, he drew up a 12-minute PowerPoint presentation for his concept which included text, video images, narration, and music, supposed to facilitate the marketing and proposition of his idea.
In June of that year, Bethea claimed to have met with Conrad Riggs, who at the time was Mark Burnett's business manager and the latter accepted pitches on Burnett's behalf. Apart from 'C.E.O,' Bethea also pitched two other show ideas. He was informed that they were not interested in 'C.E.O.' It was understood that all three of the projects that Bethea presented were to be kept confidential and the other party was not supposed to use any of his ideas without properly compensating and crediting him.
On April 2, 2003, 'The Apprentice' was announced to the public, and that it would be produced by Mark Burnett Productions, Inc. in association with Trump Productions, LLC., with Mark Burnett, Donald Trump and Jay Bienstock as Executive Producers and Conrad Riggs as Co-Executive Producer of the show and Bethea claimed that it was based off his idea. After he tried to contact the defendants to be given screen credit and compensation for his original work, he was repeatedly rebuffed. Bethea filed this lawsuit on March 14, 2005.
"This is one of the very rare idea theft cases to actually go to trial," explained Ronald W. Makarem, a legal counsel for Bethea. "Most creative people won't challenge a powerful producer because they fear that they will be blacklisted and will never get a second chance in Hollywood. Mark Bethea is a man of principle and is standing up for what is right. 'C.E.O.' is his baby and he is not about to let anyone take it from him."
Brian Panish, a lawyer in Los Angeles who worked with him for years at the firm Greene Broillet & Wheeler told the Atlantic in May 2018 that Avenatti is well-suited to the pressures of a high-profile case like handling the Daniels one. He “obviously is not shy, he wasn’t shy ever,” he said. “He had a plan in what he was gonna do and he did it … What you see is what you get.”