LOS ANGELES—Lawyers for President Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen asked a federal judge here Friday to halt a civil case against him in light of the criminal investigation embroiling him in New York.
“We're asking for a brief hit-the-pause button,” said Brent Blakely, an attorney for Mr. Cohen, referring to a suit filed in early March by Stephanie Clifford, a former adult film actress.
Ms. Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, sued to invalidate a 2016 agreement which, in exchange for a payment of $130,000, barred her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006.
Mr. Cohen made the payment using a Delaware company called Essential Consultants LLC, which is a named defendant in the case, along with Messrs. Cohen and Trump.
The hearing comes less than two weeks after FBI agents searched the office, home and hotel room of Mr. Cohen, carting away his files. Mr. Cohen is now under criminal investigation for potential bank fraud and campaign-finance violations in connection with the payment to Ms. Clifford and his taxi business, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
“This case has exploded a little bit since the start,” said U.S. District Judge S. James Otero, who said on Friday he would later rule on the request.
Mr. Blakely repeatedly stressed to Judge Otero that his client doesn't have his files because of the FBI raid and therefore can't defend himself in the Los Angeles case. “They took everything, and still have it,” he said.
He urged Judge Otero to grant them a reprieve of 90 days or less to give them time to evaluate the criminal investigation. In light of the criminal case, Mr. Cohen will have to plead his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in the Los Angeles case, his lawyer said.
Judge Otero said he recognized the serious nature of the criminal case and the confusion that can stem from an FBI raid but found some “gaping holes” in Mr. Blakely's arguments—including whether there is enough overlap between the two cases to justify halting the Los Angeles proceedings. The judge also questioned why Mr. Cohen hadn't filed a personal declaration with the court about his Fifth Amendment rights being compromised, and ordered his lawyer to file such a statement by Wednesday.
“The breadth and scope of the criminal investigation is a mystery,” Judge Otero said, making it hard to determine how much it would affect the case in his courtroom.
Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Ms. Clifford, said his opponents have filed “completely inadequate” evidence to request the case be suspended.
BY SARA RANDAZZO AND JOE PALAZZOLO