Keith M. Davidson

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Keith Davidson
Born1971 (age 47–48)
ResidenceVentura County, California, U.S.
EducationBoston College (BS)
Whittier Law School (JD)
Years active2000–present
Known forNegotiating payoffs for celebrity sex tapes; formerly representing Stormy Daniels

Keith M. Davidson (born 1971) is a lawyer in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, United States; he currently resides near Lake Sherwood. While his practice began as criminal defense,[1] he has since represented plaintiffs in civil torts such as medical malpractice, and managed professional boxers including Manny Pacquiao and James Toney. A native of Brockton, Massachusetts, he settled in Southern California after studying law at Whittier.[2]

Davidson has become best known for representing clients who have, or claim to have, documentary material that could adversely affect the reputations of celebrities they were acquainted with or worked for if made public, but will return those materials to the celebrity without sharing them with the media if they are paid sufficiently. He has been sued by three of those celebrities alleging extortion. During negotiations over Hulk Hogan's sex tape in 2012, he was detained by FBI agents conducting a sting operation, although no charges were ever filed.[2]

In the mid-2010s, two women, adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, retained Davidson to negotiate payments for them in exchange for refraining from publicly discussing their sexual encounters with Donald Trump, who was represented by Michael Cohen; Daniels accepted $130,000 in November 2016, shortly before Trump was elected U.S. President, in return for signing a nondisclosure agreement. This has drawn Davidson into the controversy over where the money ultimately came from and why it was not reported as a campaign expense; he has been cooperating with special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation.[3] Daniels and McDougal have both since said they were inadequately represented by Davidson, accusing him of colluding with Cohen to protect Trump's interests. The former has filed a legal malpractice suit against Davidson; he has countersued Daniels and new counsel Michael Avenatti alleging defamation.[4]

There have been other complaints about Davidson's adherence to legal ethics. The State Bar of California suspended his license in 2010 for incompetence in representing a client and other willful violations of rules of professional conduct after several incidents reported to it; a two-year suspension was reduced to 90 days. However, a report in The Smoking Gun alleged that even during that short period Davidson continued to practice law, and detailed many other questionable practices on his part, such as possibly splitting fees with non-lawyers like a TMZ assistant producer who referred clients to him.[5]

Early life[edit]

Davidson was born in Massachusetts in 1971, and raised in Brockton, a working-class suburb of Boston, in a large Irish American family whose several generations of firefighters included Davidson's father. Brockton calls itself the "City of Champions", since title-winning boxers Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler were natives. During the latter's tenure as middleweight champion during the 1980s, Davidson and other local children often ran after the fighter in the streets as he ran while training for fights.[6]

After graduating from Brockton High School in 1989, he attended Boston College. Since he could not afford housing fees but wanted to live on-campus, a friend converted an 8-by-10-foot (2.4 m × 3.0 m) closet in a six-person suite into a space where Davidson could sleep. He graduated with a B.S. in economics[6] in 1993.[1]

For the next two years Davidson worked in government, with the state legislature and later at the Plymouth County district attorney's office. He began applying to law schools, and was accepted at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California. After moving cross-country to study there, he graduated in 2000 and was admitted to the California bar at the end of the year.[6]

Legal career[edit]

Davidson opened up a solo practice after receiving his law license.[6] Recalling his own modest background, and a letter from an aunt who had become a nun, his initial intent was to use his professional position to stand up for the poor and marginalized.[7] He thus began representing criminal defendants. One of his earliest clients in that capacity, he recalled in 2018, was a young woman charged with murder, whom he was able to get acquitted. Her family was in such tight financial straits that the woman's mother sometimes paid Davidson in rolls of quarters.[6]

A man with dark hair, wearing a beige suit and white shirt with open collar, stands on the left next to a more lightly complected man with spectacles, stubble and slightly graying hair, wearing a similarly-colored beige shirt with open collar, under a red, white and black banner that says "MP" in curvy stylized lettering. Both are smiling.
Manny Pacquiao (left) and Freddie Roach, in 2008

A connection from Davidson's youth led to him branching out into managing boxers. After he had begun practicing law, he was introduced to fellow Boston-area native Freddie Roach, who trained boxers and mixed martial arts fighters. Through Roach, he took a role in managing boxers James Toney and Manny Pacquiao[a] for several years,[6] often visible at the latter's side when he went out in public.[8]

After a few years, Davidson's practice specialty moved toward civil law. He began taking personal injury cases,[b] and resolving contract disputes.[6] He also branched out into entertainment law, where he took on some notable clients, particularly adult film stars.[7] Davidson and his wife bought not only a house in Studio City, but a 5,600-square-foot (520 m2) vacation home in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a wine cellar, putting green and backyard pool with spa.[5]

Paris Exposed[edit]

Davidson's first experience with potentially embarrassing personal information about a celebrity came in 2007. Two years earlier, a Public Storage in Culver City had auctioned off the contents of a locker rented by Paris Hilton after she had failed to pay an overdue bill. The buyer, who had paid almost $3,000 for the collection of personal records, including diaries, nude photos and videos as well as medical and financial records, soon in turn sold them to a man who, without identifying himself to her, offered her $150,000 in cash for everything.[6]

Fourteen months later, in January 2007, the website went online, offering unrestricted access to digitized copies of the documents and media that had been in the locker for visitors willing to pay almost $40 for the privilege. Within its first 24 hours it received over a million visits.[10] Very soon afterwards, lawyers for Hilton sued in federal court, claiming the website was both copyright infringement and invasion of privacy; a month later the court agreed and granted them an injunction barring further publication and dissemination of the material. The site was registered to what Hilton's attorneys believed was a fictitious individual in Panama; it was hosted on servers in the Dutch city of Haarlem.[6]

A Caucasian woman seen from bust level up with short blonde hair wearing a lacey, strappy black top with a silver necklace, looking slightly askance at the camera and smiling faintly, in front of a reddish-pink background with some fragments of words on it
Paris Hilton in 2007

ParisExposed went offline only to reappear four months later, offering a $20 "relaunch special", and adding text to its front page taunting Hilton's attorneys and warning them that the site was mirrored behind firewalls on servers all over the world, including jurisdictions where they would not be able to shut it down. They responded by suing again, this time naming a St. Kitts-based shell company in whose name the domain was now registered, as a defendant.[6]

Davidson was the attorney for the shell company. He told The Smoking Gun later that while he did represent "the content owner", whom he declined to identify, for some of that time, that was the extent of his involvement with ParisExposed. However, some of the programmers who had worked on digitizing the media and developing the site's code recalled that Davidson had been in charge of the effort to the exclusion of anyone else, although they were not sure he did not have outside investors.[6]

Professional discipline[edit]

In the later 2000s Davidson faced serious legal and financial difficulties. As the economy worsened, he and his wife were unable to keep up their mortgage payments, and both the Scottsdale and Studio City houses went into foreclosure. The federal and state governments had taken out liens on them for unpaid income taxes.[c] Davidson was also facing charges of professional misconduct.[6]

Davidson settled a legal malpractice case brought by a woman who said that not only had he made false claims in her legal pleadings, he had apparently lost interest in her tort case against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office when he learned her injuries were not as severe as he had originally believed and thus would not have earned him a high contingency fee. Clients in several other cases charged that Davidson had mishandled their cases, and/or put his interests above their own; they also recalled that, in his ads and personal consultations, Davidson had represented his firm as employing dozens of talented and skilled lawyers when he in fact employed only a single paralegal. A couple suing the state over an injury their son received at a state mental hospital learned that Davidson's repeated failure to appear on their behalf had led the judge to dismiss their case a long time after that had happened.[6]

These cases resulted in three complaints against Davidson to the state bar. In 2010 he accepted culpability for incompetence in the practice of law and willful violations of professional rules, including mishandling client funds and failure to keep a client informed of the progress of their case; he was suspended from practicing law for two years, to be followed by three years' probation requiring attendance at an ethics class and regular updates from other lawyers. However, after other lawyers filed letters of their own with the bar noting his lack of prior misconduct and "overall honesty", that suspension was reduced to 90 days.[6][d] Davidson says that the neglected cases that led to the suspension were the result of being "spread a little too thin."[7]

Tila Tequila and Charlie Sheen lawsuits[edit]

Before Davidson's suspension ended, two celebrities had named him in lawsuits.[6]

A woman with long auburn hair, smiling towards the camera, wearing a tiara and black bustier top cinched with studded black leather belt, in front of a wooden background
Tila Tequila in 2008, when the sex tape was made

Tila Tequila alleged that Davidson had threatened to market a sex tape she and her former boyfriend had made on a 2008 vacation overseas if she did not consent to it. If she did, she claimed he said, she would get a share of the proceeds as other celebrities had with sex tapes of themselves. However, Tequila had two new adult films coming out, and neither she nor Vivid Entertainment, the production company, wanted to compete with themselves.[6]

Davidson quickly settled with her. He claimed to have obtained the copyright on the sex tape from its original owner and offered it to her as long as the settlement absolved him of any professional wrongdoing. While he was vague about how he had acquired the copyright, he defended his actions in the Smoking Gun article. "... [I] was willing to give it back to her for nothing", he said. "I thought that it was probably an admirable thing to do and a way to get rid of the whole case."[6]

Since Davidson had represented only himself in the case, he said, he claimed he was not violating the terms of his suspension, although he did not answer a question as to whether Tequila's boyfriend, also a defendant and the original owner of the tape, had been represented by separate counsel. However, shortly afterward Capri Anderson, another adult-film actress who alleged that she had been assaulted by Charlie Sheen, was referred to Davidson, and he began acting on her behalf in ways that appeared to The Smoking Gun to constitute practicing law.[6]

A month remained in the suspension when Davidson began contacting Sheen's attorney, to negotiate a settlement and demand at least a million dollars in payment, details that later emerged when Sheen sued Anderson, without naming Davidson either as defendant or in the complaint but describing his role in detail, arguing she was attempting to extort him. Davidson also arranged for Anderson to appear on Good Morning America to discuss her case and sat next to her on camera as she did. Davidson told Smoking Gun reporter William Bastone that he had been very careful not to violate the terms of his suspension and did not think these actions did.[6]

Sheen HIV status settlement[edit]

A man with dark hair, a black jacket and shirt with sunglasses dangling from the collar, smiles tightly with his eyes looking to the left as his face points downward, in front of a light gray background with a darker gray "X" to the right of his head.
Sheen in 2012

The following year Davidson began representing another adult-film actress who claimed potential injury at Sheen's hands. The actor had paid Kira Montgomery, who performed under the name Taylor Tilden, for sex and finding other partners for him. In 2011 he disclosed to her that he was HIV-positive, news that greatly distressed her since she feared he might have infected her as well (she would later test negative). Jason Quinlan, a friend she confided in put her in touch with Kevin Blatt, who had helped market a Paris Hilton sex tape and sometimes sold other stories about celebrities to tabloid news outlets around the world. Blatt in turn suggested she retain Davidson.[6]

During their first meetings, Jay De Anda, a tattoo artist Montgomery has since married, claimed she was under the influence of the methamphetamine she was using at the time and could not understand the contracts she was signing, which not only made Davidson her attorney but assigned him 40% of any monies she might receive. Davidson disputed that account. Shortly afterwards, De Anda said Davidson asked Montgomery if she could get back into Sheen's house and take pictures of the antiretroviral drugs she said she had seen in Sheen's bathroom even before he told her of his infection, which Davidson also denies.[6]

Davidson arranged for Montgomery to enter a rehabilitation facility owned by a friend and paid her cash advances afterwards. Eventually he negotiated a $2 million settlement with Sheen, payable in installments over the next five years as long as she kept the actor's HIV status to herself. After Montgomery and De Anda married in 2013, they fired Davidson.[9]

Their new lawyer, Sean Bral, reviewed the settlement and audited the records of the payments, which went from Sheen to Davidson's client trust account, then to Montgomery and Davidson, with smaller portions to Blatt and Quinlan. He came to believe that Davidson had committed several ethical violations in order to make more than his $800,000 share of the settlement, money which he likely needed given his recent financial difficulties. Davidson, Bral alleged, had billed Montgomery more than her stay in rehab had actually cost, taken more money at the beginning than he was entitled to and shared his fees with non-lawyers (Blatt and Quinlan), a practice the California bar prohibits. He had also modified their agreement on the sharing of the settlement without giving her a chance to have another lawyer review it.[9]

Davidson responded that he had paid more than the published rate for Montgomery's stay in rehab since he had paid on an installment plan, and denied that the payments to Blatt and Quinlan were compensation for referring Montgomery to him. However he could not explain the larger initial payment, and after Bral threatened he would not only sue Davidson for malpractice but make an ethical complaint to the state bar, Davidson capitulated and paid Bral's clients the extra money to avoid a possible disbarment. He was not done representing them, as it turned out—when reports that Sheen was not only HIV positive but paying Montgomery to keep to quiet about it surfaced on a Hollywood gossip blog in 2014, she asked Davidson to take care of the situation, fearing that Sheen would use the posts as an excuse to stop the payments, and he was eventually able to pay the blog's editors to delete the stories. Sheen finally went public with his HIV status in 2015, saying he was tired of being "shaken down", and ending his settlement obligations. The day beforehand, Davidson had registered the web domain[9]

Hulk Hogan sex tape[edit]

Blatt and Quinlan were not the only people who benefited during the early 2010s from referring clients to Davidson. Mike Walters, an assistant producer and news editor at TMZ on TV who became almost as visible as site founder and host Harvey Levin, frequently broke stories about purported sex tapes of various celebrities on the show and site. He often told those who came to him with the tapes, or claims to have one, to retain Davidson. Among those who Walters allegedly steered to Davidson were a Playboy Playmate who accused Hugh Hefner's son of assault and a woman who claimed Lindsay Lohan had assaulted her in rehab. Davidson brokered a payment from TMZ to her after she was fired for violating patient confidentiality and tried to arrange for a meeting between her and Lohan that would be furtively photographed to suggest the two had settled their dispute; after the woman fired Davidson her next attorney told The Smoking Gun Davidson's actions had not been in the client's best interest.[9]

Davidson later represented Walters and other members of his family in some legal matters, including incorporating a company for Walters. The lawyer told Bastone he might have been paid for some of the work, but was not sure. Walters would not answer questions about his relationship with Davidson.[9]

In early 2012 TMZ began to cover reports of a sex tape featuring former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and a woman later identified as the wife of a friend of Hogan's, Tampa-area shock jock Todd Clem, known legally as his on-air name Bubba the Love Sponge. They had been made available to TMZ and another website that published them by Matt Loyd, a former intern with Clem's radio show, who had come to dislike his former boss. Loyd claimed he had found the tapes inside a box set of DVDs during a garage sale fundraiser Clem held. Law enforcement later came to believe they had in fact been stolen, but never charged Loyd.[9]

Since Hogan had threatened to sue and the story had gotten little traction, TMZ was not planning to air any excerpts from the tapes. In October, however, the website Gawker published a short excerpt of the tape and a description of the rest. Walters soon posted to TMZ a more detailed transcript, with the exception of the end, where the Clems alluded to Hogan's use of racial slurs during the encounter and agreed with each other that making the tape public could earn them sufficient retirement money. He recommended that Loyd retain Davidson, but told the former intern not to tell anyone that he had, which Loyd later said seemed odd.[9]

Loyd said Davidson told him, if he was asked, to say he found the videos on a used laptop, instead of the account he had previously been giving, despite Loyd's insistence that that was what had actually happened. Davidson cited attorney–client confidentiality in refusing to comment on this to The Smoking Gun. He soon approached Hogan's attorney, David Houston, and began negotiating an agreement to return the tapes to Hogan, who was primarily eager to keep the portions where he used racial slurs from public view.[12]

Davidson characterized the Gawker post as a "shot across the bow" from his clients, saying that there was more where that had come from,[13] and made what Houston characterized as less discreet threats. He and Hogan reported Davidson's efforts to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which believed there was enough evidence to suggest that he and his clients might be trying to extort money from the wrestler. Houston began letting the FBI eavesdrop on and record his telephone conversations with Davidson. He did not, however, make any clearly incriminating statements or threats as they negotiated what he believed would be a $300,000 settlement, and balked at including language in the agreement that seemed to him to be a confession.[12]

The proposed agreement also included an admission by Loyd and Lori Burbridge, the woman who he had been his intermediary with TMZ and Walters that they had leaked the tapes to Gawker; Davidson told her to say that she had found the discs in a laptop bag. In later interviews with law enforcement, both denied that they had had anything to do with that leak and repeatedly told Davidson that. They said he insisted that they admit to it anyway, as they would face no consequences and the settlement would not go through without that admission. Burbridge later told the FBI that she asked Davidson if he was extorting Hogan and, based on his answers, believed that he was.[12]

Hogan, Houston and Davidson met in a Florida hotel room to finalize the deal. Davidson brought the discs, and the other two brought $150,000 in cash, the first installment of the settlement. FBI agents in the next room were listening in and preparing to make an arrest. In a private conversation, Davidson admitted to Houston that the tapes had originally come from a disgruntled former employee of Clem's, without naming Loyd, and that he did not know whether they had been stolen nor was he interested in knowing.[12]

Burbridge came in and, as she had agreed with Davidson, told Hogan and Houston she had leaked the tape to Gawker. She and Hogan signed multiple copies of the agreement, and then while Houston and Hogan were off authenticating them, she submitted to a lie detector test as the agreement required. After that, Davidson prepared to hand over the DVDs, and Houston readied a check for $150,000. Then the FBI agents entered the room.[12]

After being detained and questioned, Burbridge and Davidson were released with the understanding that federal prosecutors would be reviewing the case and might yet file charges. Davidson texted Loyd, who was elsewhere, and told him what had happened. He advised Loyd to retain separate counsel since he now had a conflict of interest as a target of the same investigation.[12]

To represent him, Davidson retained A. Brian Albritton, former United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, whose successor's office would be considering the case. Albritton compiled a lengthy dossier of statements attesting to his client's general good character, as well as negative material on Clem that might come up in a trial, such as fines by the Federal Communication Commission over his sexually charged radio shows. He suggested that prosecuting the case would hurt the image of the U.S. Attorney's office and provoke resentment against it.[12]

A muscular Caucasian man in a red T-shirt with "Hulk's Rules" written on it in large yellow letters, a red bandanna with yellow-trimmed sunglasses pulled up on it and a lengthy white handlebar mustache stands in front of a black curtain, looking slightly downward.
Hulk Hogan in 2015

Seven months later, federal prosecutors closed the case without charging anyone, to the surprise of Houston and hogan.[e] They instead turned to the area's state attorneys, some of whom, after reviewing the case, believed there was evidence of conspiracy to commit extortion and dealing in stolen property. However, they were not sure that a jury could be persuaded to convict or that Clem would be an ideal witness to present to jurors.[12]

Hogan continues to seek the source of the tape. In 2015 the portion in which he had used racist language was made public by The National Enquirer, causing World Wrestling Entertainment to fire him and remove him from its hall of fame. After his lawsuit against Gawker, which had caused controversy when it was revealed to have been funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who had his own grudge against the site, ended the next year with a verdict that forced it into bankruptcy and shut it down, Hogan sued Davidson, along with Gawker, Loyd, Burbridge and several other persons and businesses connected to them in state court, alleging they conspired with Gawker so the site could obtain the recordings later published by the Enquirer to persuade Hogan to drop his suit. Davidson has represented himself; in early 2018 the court denied his motion to compel arbitration. He has moved to have the case against him dismissed.[12]

Clients with connections to Donald Trump[edit]

Karen McDougal[edit]

In 2006 and 2007 Karen McDougal, Playboy's 1998 Playmate of the Year, had an affair with New York real estate developer Donald Trump, at that time host of the reality television show The Apprentice. A decade later, just after Trump had secured the delegates necessary to win the Republican nomination for President in the 2016 election, another former Playmate, Carrie Stevens began naming McDougal and several other past Playmates she claimed Trump had had affairs with on her Twitter feed. Until then McDougal had had no intention of sharing details of her relationship publicly, but a friend urged her to "get out it front of it". To that end she hired Davidson to negotiate with any interested media outlets.[14]

McDougal retained Davidson in June 2016, agreeing that he would get 45% of anything she received in connection with the story, which she saw primarily as a way to relaunch herself as a voice for women's health and wellness. In her later lawsuit, she claimed he told this was the industry standard, which she learned later was not so. He began negotiating with American Media, Inc. (AMI), parent company of The National Enquirer and some fitness magazines where McDougal thought she might be able write columns.[15]

Before McDougal left her Arizona home for Los Angeles, Davidson told her that AMI had already put half a million dollars into escrow for her. At AMI, vice president Dylan Howard had her retell all the details of the affair for two hours. But afterwards Davidson told her that the company was not interested, and that there had in fact never been any money in escrow. Only later, she claimed, did she learn that Davidson had called Michael Cohen, one of Trump's lawyers, about her conversation with AMI;[16] Davidson called it "a professional courtesy".[7]

McDougal began looking on her own for other media outlets that might give her the chance to tell the story first, and ABC News expressed interest. She began sharing documents with them and signed a confidentiality agreement. But then AMI contacted her again with renewed interest. They told her that they would pay her for the lifetime rights to the story but not publish it, since the company's CEO David J. Pecker was a close personal friend of Trump.[16]

The cash payment was only $150,000, from which Davidson would take his cut, but AMI would also give her a chance to write two years worth of columns on women's health and wellness both in print and online, with two cover appearances on their magazines, including Men's Fitness, where she had appeared after winning Playmate of the Year. Although she says she made clear several times that she did not yet fully understand the contract, Davidson allegedly told her to sign and return it within hours of receipt. However, she heard nothing from AMI afterwards;[16] only on later review did she discover that the contract only gave AMI the option to run columns under her name and likeness, a detail she claims Davidson did not tell her.[17]

Shortly before the election, at the beginning of November, The Wall Street Journal reported on the deal between AMI and McDougal and the alleged affair. AMI suddenly contacted McDougal again, saying that their goal had always been to make sure the story was never published. She fired Davidson and hired another attorney to file suit against AMI to let her out of the contract;[18] in April 2018 she was successful.[19]

Stormy Daniels[edit]

A blond Caucasian woman looking towards the camera and smiling. She is wearing a green dress with a plunging neckline, a necklace and large earrings
Stormy Daniels in 2015

Around the same time that Davidson was finalizing the deal between McDougal and AMI, he was representing another woman who alleged a contemporaneous affair with Trump: adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, known onscreen as Stormy Daniels. In that case the counterparty was Trump himself, represented by Cohen.[20] Davidson told CNN he had first represented her in this matter when gossip site reported rumors of the relationship in 2011.[7] Ultimately she received $130,000 for her silence; at that time he denied rumors of the affair.[20]

In early 2018 Daniels broke her silence and recounted the affair to Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. By then she too had fired Davidson; her new lawyer, Michael Avenatti, charged that Davidson had colluded with Cohen both in his client's case and McDougal's to protect Trump. In June she sued Davidson for malpractice; two days later Davidson countersued her and Avenatti alleging defamation.[20] He had earlier said that her claims were inaccurate and that he looked forward to correcting them "in an appropriate forum".[7]

Davidson's involvement with Daniels interested special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who had been investigating the payment. Cohen had ultimately set up a limited liability corporation to make the payment from his own pocket; however it had been suggested he was to be reimbursed by Trump personally or his campaign, a payment which was not at the time reported as a campaign expense. After Cohen's office was searched by the FBI in mid-April, prosecutors asked Davidson to turn over "certain electronic records" from his interactions with Cohen.[21]

A month after the raid, Avenatti posted to Twitter an email shortly after the raid that Cohen, whose signature still identified himself as Trump's personal attorney, had sent to Davidson saying he had lost all his contact info due to the seizure of his phone. Cohen asked Davidson to send all his contact information so Cohen could put it on his new phone. He ended the email with "Let me know how you want to communicate". Avenatti wondered why the two had communicated, since they were not representing any parties with opposing or shared interests at the time.[22]

Shera Bechard[edit]

In May 2018 The Wall Street Journal reported that Shera Bechard, another former Playmate, had retained Davidson to negotiate a $1.6 million payment to her from an unnamed Republican Party official, supposedly after an affair that led to her having an abortion, according to a nondisclosure agreement that was among documents seized in the raid on Cohen's office the previous month. The Journal identified the official as Elliott Broidy, the party's deputy finance chairman, a financier who had been convicted of bribery in 2009.[23][24]

A Caucasian woman with long blonde hair wearing a gray top that covers her breasts and a thin silver necklace looks toward the viewer
Shera Bechard in 2010

The agreement had been signed "David Dennison", for Cohen's client, the same pseudonym that Trump had used when signing his agreement with Daniels while she had been represented by Davidson. New York magazine columnist Paul Campos suspected that, based on the timing of the arrangement, Broidy may have accepted responsibility that was in actuality Trump's. Campos noted that the first of eight $200,000 installments had been paid to Davidson in early December 2017, just before Bechard, like McDougal and Daniels before her, fired Davidson since she believed he was putting the opposing client's interest above hers. Two days later, Trump agreed to a hastily-scheduled meeting with Broidy, who shortly thereafter received a $600 million contract to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of the United Arab Emirates, whose leadership he had been telling all year he could get personal access to Trump if he were elected.[24]

Campos had earlier noted that Trump already had a history of affairs with Playmates, once having bragged to Hugh Hefner at a party attended by many such women that he did not know which of them were his and which of them were Hefner's. Broidy, on the other hand, had once included as part of his bribes to an official of the New York State Comptroller's office the living and medical expenses of that official's girlfriend, concealed as a supposed loan to a relative of the woman.[25]

According to the Journal's account, after Bechard retained Davidson, he got in touch with Cohen. Campos found this a strange thing for Davidson to do since Broidy was not a client of Cohen's, and Cohen therefore had no obligation to keep the information about the affair confidential. "[The call] had no conceivable legal justification, and was profoundly counterproductive to Davidson's client's interest." He also found it strange that Broidy, a man whose name was not widely known outside New York's financial community, would pay much more than Trump had for the silence of a past liaison, and retain a lawyer he did not know (when he already knew many who could have effectively represented him) who had called him on his own initiative about a claim which Bechard had, according to Broidy, provided no proof of, then quickly confess after the case became public knowledge. Campos believed it was much more plausible that it was Trump who had impregnated Bechard and paid to keep the abortion from becoming public knowledge to avoid alienating evangelical Christians who had been critical to his election.[25]

Campos asked Avenatti, who had already publicly expressed doubt as to whether Broidy was Cohen's real client, whether his theory of a cut-out was likely. "There are considerable and serious questions as to this alleged settlement," Avenatti told him. "Many things about it simply do not appear to add up or pass the smell test."[25]

In July 2018 Broidy announced he was ceasing payments, claiming that the agreement was no longer valid since Davidson had leaked information from it to Avenatti, a claim Davidson denies. Campos said this, too, makes no sense as the unauthorized disclosure of information would not be legal grounds to void the entire agreement; if that had happened, Broidy should have sued Davidson, since he had not represented Bechard since shortly after the agreement was concluded. After Campos wrote the column, Broidy's current attorney told Campos "this agreement was not on anyone else's behalf."[26] Shortly afterward, Bechard sued Davidson, Avenatti and Broidy, alleging breach of contract; the details were not available as the complaint was under seal.[27]

When Avenatti was able to review the complaint the next business day, he did not share details but said "being named in this lawsuit is frivolous and complete bullshit." He moved to have it unsealed, suggesting that he was included on the basis that he had leaked the agreement to the media after Davidson shared it with him. However, he said, Davidson had shared it without any inquiry on his part, and, Avenatti claims, never told him any of it was confidential.[28]


"You don't want to write about me", Davidson told New York's Molly Redden. "I'm so boring. I'm so, so boring."[8] He has said he tries to remain "under the radar" since many of the cases he handles involving celebrities concern potentially embarrassing material. "I'm sort of in the secret business."[7]

While he has downplayed the role that that business plays in his legal practice,[9] he is aware that has defined him and that he has been seen as the lawyer to retain in these cases.[7] On the recorded conversations in the Hulk Hogan case he is heard telling David Houston, Hogan's attorney, that these cases are "my specialty";[8] Houston said he was "amazed that there was a lawyer actually making a living doing this".[2] Both Bastone, who reported on what seemed to him like an effort on Davidson's part to blackmail him out of writing his story, and Redden likened him to Saul Goodman, the profit-driven lawyer in the TV series Breaking Bad who helps launder profits from illegal drug sales.[5][8] Kevin Blatt, who had referred some clients to Davidson in the early 2010s, now no longer does because "he flies too close to the fucking sun".[5]

Some of the lawyers who have represented counterparties in negotiations with Davidson speak well of him. "For the niche he has carved out—which I guess most people would shy away from—he's always struck me as honorable and a man of his word", Mark Geragos, who estimated to The Smoking Gun that he has represented celebrities on whom Davidson's clients have material approximately 10 times, told Bastone. "He's more interested in making money for his clients rather than getting publicity for himself", said Martin Singer, attorney for Charlie Sheen. Cohen told Redden that Davidson had "always been professional, ethical and a true gentleman."[8]

Jason Quinlan, who had brought some clients to Davidson besides Kira Montgomery, also had some positive things to say. After noting to Bastone that Davidson's upper middle class personal life was "the exact opposite" of the marginal people who often became his clients, he said "Keith's actually pretty cool ... He's a shady lawyer but he's a decent guy."[9]

Personal life[edit]

Davidson's wife, Kristi, is a registered nurse. They have two sons and live near Lake Sherwood, in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles.[5] He is reportedly an avid golfer in his spare time.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Davidson is currently a defendant in an extortion lawsuit filed by a waiter who claims the lawyer threatened his future career to get him to accept $50,000 as a finder's fee for helping arrange Pacquiao's 2015 fight with Floyd Mayweather; Davidson denies the allegation.[6]
  2. ^ Davidson told Bastone in 2018 that this field still makes up the bulk of his practice, with celebrity-related work accounting for 15% at the most.[9]
  3. ^ In 2017 the California Franchise Tax Board filed another lien against Davidson for $30,000 in unpaid 2014 and 2015 taxes.[6]
  4. ^ Davidson's license was again suspended for nine days in 2014 after he was late in paying his bar dues[11]
  5. ^ Hogan later told Ryan Holiday that, at one point when Davidson had been in the bathroom, he had considered simply destroying the discs and then assaulting the lawyer, but decided not to since the FBI was next door. After the charges were dropped, he wished he had[13]


  1. ^ a b "Keith M. Davidson". Martindale-Hubbell. 2018. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Finnegan, Michael (April 20, 2018). "Trump sex scandals turn a harsh spotlight on this Beverly Hills lawyer". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ Reinhard, Beth; Brown, Emma (April 20, 2018). "Stormy Daniels's former lawyer said to be cooperating with federal probe of Michael Cohen". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  4. ^ Greenwood, Max (June 7, 2018). "Stormy Daniels's former attorney files defamation suit against her". The Hill. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e Bastone, William (April 4, 2018). "Celeb Dirt To Be Sold? You Better Call Keith". The Smoking Gun. p. 1. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Better Call Keith, 2
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Glover, Scott; Sidner, Sara (April 6, 2018). "Lawyer who cut deals for Daniels and McDougal says the whole truth has not been told". Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e Redden, Molly (February 16, 2018). "How the Hollywood Lawyer for Trump's Mistresses Turns Celebrity Sex Scandals Into Cash". New York. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Better Call Keith, 3
  10. ^ Thomas, Karen (January 30, 2007). "Paris Hilton website exposed". USA Today. Retrieved June 20, 2018.
  11. ^ Lanktree, Graham (March 26, 2018). "Stormy Daniels' Lawyer, Who Negotiated Hush Money Deal, Lost His License Twice". Newsweek. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i Better Call Keith, 4
  13. ^ a b Holiday, Ryan (January 15, 2018). "The Insane Backstory Behind The Lawyer Who Shook Down Donald Trump (and Hulk Hogan)". New York Observer. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  14. ^ Estrella, Cicero (March 20, 2018). "Playboy model Karen McDougal sues to spill details of alleged affair with Donald Trump". The Mercury News. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  15. ^ McDougal v. American Media Inc.; March 20, 2018; Los Angeles County Superior Court, p. 8
  16. ^ a b c McDougal, p. 4
  17. ^ Pilutik, Scott (March 20, 2018). "Was Former Playmate Karen McDougal's Old Lawyer Working for Her or for Donald Trump?". Slate. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
  18. ^ McDougal, p. 5
  19. ^ Rutenberg, Jim (April 18, 2018). "Ex-Playboy Model, Freed From Contract, Can Discuss Alleged Trump Affair". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  20. ^ a b c LeBlanc, Paul (June 8, 2018). "Who is Keith Davidson? Attorney Claims Stormy Daniels Defamed Him". Newsweek. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  21. ^ Reinhard, Beth; Brown, Emma (April 20, 2018). "Stormy Daniels's former lawyer said to be cooperating with federal probe of Michael Cohen". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  22. ^ Avenatti, Michael (May 10, 2018). "On April 9, the FBI raided Mr. Cohen's home, office and hotel room. Within 48 hours, Mr. Cohen sent the below email to Mr. Davidson. Why? They had no ongoing legal matter at the time. Was it part of an attempt by Mr. Cohen to obstruct justice or worse?#Basta". Twitter. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  23. ^ Palazzolo, Joe; Rothfeld, Joe (April 13, 2018). "Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Negotiated $1.6 Million Settlement for Top Republican Fundraiser". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  24. ^ a b Campos, Paul (May 22, 2018). "Hey, Look: More Evidence That Broidy May Have Been Covering for Trump in That Playmate Affair". New York. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  25. ^ a b c Campos, Paul (May 8, 2018). "Here's a Theory About That $1.6 Million Payout From a GOP Official to a Playboy Model". New York. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  26. ^ Campos, Paul (July 2, 2018). "Broidy Ending Playmate's Hush Payments Doesn't Add Up—Unless He's Covering for Trump". New York. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  27. ^ Gstalter, Morgan; Thomsen, Jacqueline (July 6, 2018). "Ex-Playmate files lawsuit against former RNC official over hush-money agreement". The Hill. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  28. ^ Cartwright, Lachlan (July 9, 2018). "Playmate Who Aborted Elliott Broidy's Love Child Makes 'Troublesome Claims' in New Lawsuit". The Daily Beast. Retrieved July 14, 2018.

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