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Stormy Daniels’ religious beliefs under scrutiny as federal trial against Avenatti begins

'Let me get this straight,' the porn-star-turned-paranormal-investigator said on Facebook. 'They are going to use my religious (beliefs) and profession to discriminate against me.'

FILE- Adult film actress Stormy Daniels, right, accompanied by her attorney, Michael Avenatti, left, walk away after speaking to the media outside federal court, on April 16, 2018, in New York. Avenatti, the once high-profile California attorney who regularly taunted then-President Donald Trump during frequent television appearances, was introduced Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, to prospective jurors who will decide whether he cheated porn star Stormy Daniels out of book-deal proceeds. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

(RNS) — Stormy Daniels, the former adult-film star who was once paid to keep silent about her relationship with former President Donald Trump, is expected to testify this week in the trial of her former attorney Michael Avenatti, who is accused of stealing some $300,000 from Daniels’ book advance. 

But Daniels may end up having to defend herself against attacks from Avenatti’s lawyers that her religious beliefs make her a flawed witness.

In a June 2020 court filing, lawyers for Avenatti tried to discredit Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, saying that “Ms. Clifford has made any number of bizarre, fantastical claims that call into serious question her truthfulness, mental state, and ability to competently testify.”

The “bizarre” claims focus, according to the document, on various statements made by Daniels in interviews about her work as a paranormal investigator and her psychic history. The filing also notes that Daniels says that “she is a ‘witch’ who practices witchcraft and can rid people of spirits (a ‘service’ for which she charges).”

Daniels produces and stars in “Spooky Babes,” a TV show about paranormal activity, including ghost sightings and haunted places. She is also a tarot reader, medium and energy worker.

She is expected to be called to testify in the latest case against Avenatti, who helped Daniels sue Trump in 2018 to gain her release from a nondisclosure agreement. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York allege that Avenatti later forged documents to steal $300,000 from Daniels’ book advance and then used the money for personal expenses and to pay his employees’ salaries.

Avenatti, who was indicted on charges of wire fraud and identity theft in May 2019, has pleaded not guilty and has denied any wrongdoing, stating on Twitter, “No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled,” and he looked forward to a jury reviewing the case.

In reaction to Avenatti’s lawyers’ assertions about her new career and her practicing witchcraft, Daniels stated in a June 2021 public Facebook post, “Let me get this straight. They are going to use my religious (beliefs) and profession to discriminate against me.”

“This is literally a modern-day witch hunt,” she wrote. “The precedent this sets moving forward is absolutely terrifying! It opens the door to attack and discrimination against every person that identifies as something other than Christian, reads tarot, is a medium and works in energy healing and paranormal in any capacity.”

Federal rules of evidence prevent a witness’s “religious beliefs or opinions” from being admissible in court to “attack or support the witness’s credibility.” 

In November 2021, Avenatti’s lawyers requested the court issue a subpoena of Daniels’ mental health records, including drug use and counseling. According to a letter filed Nov. 18, the defense believes that these documents will help the court assess Daniels’ “competence and credibility” as a witness.

The letter was sealed by the court but made public by Daniels herself, who once again responded publicly on Facebook, saying the request should scare everyone in the paranormal field.

“They have also brought religion into the argument, which should scare ANY and ALL of you who identify as something other (than) Christian,” she wrote.

All responses and other correspondence regarding the subpoena request have been sealed by the court until after Daniels testifies. 

On Dec. 6, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman granted the defendant’s request for the subpoena. Any documents would be sent directly to the court for assessment. Daniels’ attorney quickly responded that there were no such mental health records.

In her Facebook statement, Daniels also said she has no mental health records to share and called the request, along with its disregard for her spiritual beliefs, “a blatant and disgusting attempt to publicly shame someone for seeking mental health treatment.”

Judge Furman has reportedly prohibited the defendant’s lawyers from asking Daniels about her mental health during cross-examination, but he would allow questions about her spiritual beliefs and her paranormal work, according to the Courtroom News Service.

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