UPDATED: 4:10 p.m. ET, Dec. 18
Originally published on March 31, 2023
Jonathan Majors’ conviction on Monday for assaulting his ex-girlfriend isn’t only a major loss for the movie star, but it’s also the latest high-profile legal defeat for his defense attorney.
While Priya Chaudhry did recently secure a not guilty verdict for Adam Foss, a Black man and former Boston prosecutor and prominent criminal justice-reform advocate charged in 2017 with allegedly raping and assaulting a 25-year-old woman, that victory was an apparent exception to what seems to be all but a rule.
— Court TV (@CourtTV) December 18, 2023
In Majors’ case, Chaudhry and her team alleged police bias, claiming that the officers present failed to investigate the alleged assault properly and coached his ex-girlfriend, Grace Jabbari, to accuse the actor of assault. Chaudhry has also provided video footage and witness testimonies supporting Majors’ innocence.
However, much like many of her other, similar cases, Majors’ trial ended with a conviction and the possibility of jail time.
Critics likely believe the guilty verdict is at least partially because of Chaudhry’s legal strategies, including releasing text messages purportedly between Majors and Jabbari that were expected to exonerate him from the assault charges instead of making the already uphill legal implications significantly steeper.
Chaudhry exuded confidence in her initial statements surrounding the police investigation into Majors’ alleged assault of his girlfriend in New York City. But a quick look back at some of the other high-profile cases she has handled suggests the outcome for the actor was already determined when he retained his lawyer’s services.
Expectations were high after Chaudhry claimed in the immediate aftermath of Majors’ arrest that she had secured video footage as well as two separate “written statements” from the woman “recanting” her claims the actor strangled, assaulted and harassed her during a taxi ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan last weekend. But early on in the case, Chaudhry produced neither videos nor official statements.
Instead, Chaudhry made public a screenshot of a brief text message exchange purportedly between Majors and the woman that left even more questions than answers. It wasn’t exactly the flex she may have intended, as shown by reactions across social media. While there is no proof that Majors committed an assault, critics online suggested the texts’ self-blaming language was similar to the kinds of things “battered women” say to excuse abuse.
Below is an example of the type of discourse that flooded social media timelines after the texts were made public.
oh those texts make JM look worse tbh. because how many millions of stories of battered women have we heard where the victim is blaming themselves and apologetic to their alleged abuser in an attempt to avoid additional harm?
— lil peanut (@such_A_frknlady) March 30, 2023
The release of the texts also cast aspersions on Chaudhry since they seemed to have the opposite effect she likely intended.
The texts — all apparently sent and received on Saturday before and after Majors was arrested — are absent of context and show one message supposedly from the actor asking if keys were left before he said “goodbye.”
Hours later, a different text message responds in part by saying there was an apologetic assurance that no criminal charges would result from the incident in question.
“I’m so sorry you’re in this position,” one text said before another added later: “I told them it was my fault for trying to grab your phone.”
A subsequent text purportedly to Majors says, “I love you.”
Another text allegedly from the woman said she told the police “this was not an attack” and denied any “strangulation” occurred.
Notably, the text added, “I also said tell the judge to know that the origin of the call was to do with me collapsing and passing out and your worry as my partner.”
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) March 30, 2023
Chaudhry’s past high-profile cases
Chaudhry is described on her website as an award-winning attorney who is “[n]ationally recognized as a premier criminal trial lawyer.” It also says she has worked “over 40 jury trials in over 20 years of practice in some of the nation’s most complicated and high-profile criminal cases.”
What Chaudhry’s website does not say is that some of those recent aforementioned “high-profile criminal cases” resulted in unfavorable verdicts for her clients.
In Foss’ case, which was decided last month, Chaudhry made similar claims to Majors’ case in claiming that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “ignored” evidence that should have precluded any criminal charges, questioned the ethics of Braggs’ office and cited an “eagerness” to bring hasty criminal charges — particularly when a Black man is accused of violence by a white woman.
But the jury in Majors’ case didn’t buy it — a commonality with other juries Chaudhry has unsuccessfully tried to sway in past high-profile cases.
Notably, Chaudhry represented Paul Haggis when a jury late last year found the Academy Award-winning filmmaker to be liable for three counts of raping and sexually abusing a woman in New York City in 2013. That case was not criminal and was tried in civil court that determined Haggis must pay the woman at least $7.5 million. Four days later, Haggis was ordered to pay her an additional $2.5 million in damages.
Chaudhry said she was “disappointed and shocked” at the verdict that she attributed in part to the “#MeToo movement.”
“No one could have had a fair trial in that courtroom under those circumstances,” Chaudhry said when the verdict was handed down on Nov. 10, 2022. “This is a shameful exploitation of the #MeToo movement where political sentiment trumps facts.”
One of Chaudhry’s lines of questioning in the trial centered on Haggis blaming the Church of Scientology for the multiple sexual misconduct allegations made against him.
“My bet is that, within two years, you’re going to read something about me in a scandal that looks like it has nothing to do with the church,” Chaudhry argued during the trial.
Haggis has said he would appeal the verdict.
Chaudhry also defended the currently incarcerated reality TV star Jen Shah in a high-profile criminal case centered on allegations of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with telemarketing and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In that case, also from last year, Shah — who starred on the show, Real Housewives of Salt Lake City — pleaded guilty, reversing her initial not-guilty plea.
“Ms. Shah is a good woman who crossed a line. She accepts full responsibility for her actions and deeply apologizes to all who have been harmed,” Chaudhry told Us Weekly in a statement last summer. “Ms. Shah is also sorry for disappointing her husband, children, family, friends, and supporters. Jen pled guilty because she wants to pay her debt to society and put this ordeal behind her and her family.”
Shah is serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence in Texas.
“Jen Shah’s resolve to make her victims whole and to turn her life around is unyielding,” Chaudhry said when Shah began her sentence. “She is committed to serving her sentence with courage and purpose, fueled by her desire to make amends for the hurt she has caused and to help others in her new community.”
While Nikhil Wahi isn’t exactly a household name, his federal cryptocurrency trial in which Chaudhry represented him was largely seen as groundbreaking. Wahi pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud in a case that the Department of Justice said centered on “a scheme to commit insider trading in cryptocurrency assets by using confidential information from his brother … about which crypto assets were scheduled to be listed” on a crypto trading and investment platform.
Chaudhry tried in vain to get Wahi sentenced to time served and said his only motivation in the “scheme” was to pay his parents back for putting him through college and to help them retire. Wahi is “an incredibly decent young man who did the wrong thing for a misguided reason,” Chaudhry told a court that in January sentenced the defendant to 10 months in prison, according to Bloomberg Law.
Ex-Coinbase manager’s brother, Nikhil Wahi, has been handed a 10 months sentence for crypto insider trading where he made almost $900,000.
⁰Nikhil Wahi claimed he sought to pay back his parents in India – Bloomberg #CryptoNews #Coinbase pic.twitter.com/lkwzolyDd1
— NewBie Cryptozone (@Newbie_Cryptoz) January 11, 2023
The court of public opinion had already been looking at Chaudhry’s latest high-profile client through slanted eyes. Predictably, that didn’t bode well for Majors and his trial, a setting where Chaudhry hasn’t had the greatest track record in recent history.
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