Personal injury attorney Franklin Azar is spending more than $224,000 to try to get 17th Judicial District Court Judge Edward Moss out of office.
Azar is the sole donor to Great Judges for a Great Colorado, an independent spending committee that has thus far reported spending nearly $198,000 on television, online and radio ads opposing Moss.
The negative advertising stems from a court judgment by Moss against a client of Azar’s law firm — a case where an insurance company accused Azar’s firm of acting in bad faith and Azar’s firm tried unsuccessfully to get Moss removed from the case. Two of the ads feature the client in English and Spanish criticizing Moss for the judgment.
District court judges face retention in the first general election after they’ve served at least two years, then every six years after. This is Moss’ third retention vote. A judicial commission reviews judges’ work and makes a report for voters.
A 10-member committee in the 17th Judicial District, centered in Adams and Broomfield counties, unanimously agreed that Moss meets performance standards. Its evaluation noted that he is a “well-respected leader” in the court system on ethics and ethics education.
The Great Judges TV ad campaign takes a different point of view. It says Moss is “on the wrong side of history.”
“In cases of corporate power, Judge Moss has consistently taken the side of the big shots, like the big insurance companies, over people like you,” the ad says.
It encourages voters to vote against him for retention.
Azar is a well-known personal injury attorney, who airs TV commercials featuring the cases of people for whom he’s won large settlements. His firm’s website boasts its sponsorship of the Denver Broncos.
The case referenced in the campaign ads concerns a man named Claudio De La Cruz Arellano, who was injured in a car wreck in 2015 when three other men who were street racing crashed into him in Aurora. State Farm insured one of the racers, and it rejected an out-of-court settlement of $25,000 that was proposed by Azar’s firm, which represented De La Cruz, according to arguments made in court documents filed by the firm. That led to a lawsuit — heard by a different judge — and, ultimately, a nearly $1.4 million jury verdict in favor of De La Cruz.
Because of a complicated legal agreement prior to trial, though, De La Cruz sought to get State Farm to pay that money. State Farm then sued De La Cruz in a separate case — this one coming before Moss — seeking an order that said the insurance company didn’t have to pay.
During the course of the case, State Farm accused Azar’s firm of trying “to create conflicts with insurers by making demands for payment without providing full or fair information” and sought to question one of the firm’s attorneys under oath. Azar’s firm, meanwhile, sought to remove Moss from the case — citing two prior cases before Moss where it believed the judge had accused the firm of unethical behavior related to its advertising.
“Judge Moss’s repeated and unfounded allegations that … Franklin D. Azar and Associates engage(s) in unethical behavior raise a reasonable question about his impartiality,” the firm wrote in its motion to disqualify Moss. The judge rejected the motion and remained on the case.
Moss ultimately ruled in State Farm’s favor in De La Cruz’s case, a decision now being appealed.
“I’ve been practicing law for 35 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever felt the need to get involved in a judicial retention election,” Azar said in a statement sent to The Sun.
In 2008, Azar spent $60,000 via a PAC to support 18th District Attorney Carol Chambers in a Republican primary in which she defeated George Brauchler, who won the office in 2012 and is now running for attorney general.
Moss declined to speak about the ads via an email response from 17th Judicial District officials.
The Great Judges super PAC originally was represented by former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who asked the current Secretary of State’s office for an advisory decision on creation of an independent spending committee to oppose judges up for retention. The current office agreed the independent spending committee could be formed.
Gessler serves on the State Commission of Judicial Performance, which evaluates court of appeals and Supreme Court justices. He had no input on Moss’ evaluation this year, said Kent J. Wagner, executive director of Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation.
Wagner said his commission also would not discuss the campaign against Moss. Judicial candidates aren’t allowed to raise or spend money unless there’s a campaign against them, and it doesn’t appear Moss is actively campaigning.
“It’s always a little bit difficult for my office,” Wagner said. “We stand by the evaluations that are out there. We don’t feel like we’re in a position to give any response to these campaigns against judges.”
Great Judges didn’t file required notices of the independent spending until Friday, and has been notified of $1,100 in fines for the late filings.
Meanwhile, Denver residents are getting bright pink postcards urging them to vote against Denver 2nd Judicial District Judge Jennifer Torrington, who handles primarily domestic cases. It cites low ratings by the public, though her formal evaluation noted that judges who handle such cases typically receive lower scores than those who deal with criminal or other types of civil cases. The judicial performance commission deemed that she met performance standards for retention.
Citizens for Court Reform is the group identified as sending the mailer, which has a postage permit from Colorado Springs. The group is not registered with the secretary of state’s office. Committees that raise or spent $1,000 or more for independent spending are required to register.
This story has been updated to correct that Azar is a personal injury attorney, not a defense attorney.
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