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Clear the Bench's Matt Arnold takes on Colorado Ethics Watch over "delayed" legal-fee payment

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Today's entertainingly pissy political pissing match pits Clear the Bench Colorado's Matt Arnold, who wants to throw the bums off the state's supreme court, against Colorado Ethics Watch, which filed a campaign-finance complaint against Clear the Bench in May.

The issue? Legal bills Arnold says he's owed -- ones that CEW director Luis Toro isn't sure actually exist.

Here's the simplest explanation we can offer about an extremely convoluted issue...

Clear the Bench is registered as an issues committee -- meaning that donations to it have no limit, although they aren't tax deductible. But CEW believes Clear the Bench should be designated as a political committee subject to donation limits because "judges are defined as candidates in Amendment 27," Toro said in May. "And the only reasonable interpretation of that language is that elections for judges should be treated as candidate elections."

Arnold countered that he chose the issues-committee designation on the advice of the folks at the Secretary of State's office. In May, he called the complaint "a pathetic political ploy by Colorado Ethics Watch to scare off donors and intimidate us. But we're not going to run away from the legal hucksterism they're trying to do."

More disagreements follow. According to Arnold, this matter came before Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer in July, who "threw out the complaint, finding in frivolous, groundless and vexatious, and awarded us attorneys fees." These charges, which Arnold says come to "tens of thousands of dollars," were delayed because CEW filed what Arnold calls "a supplemental complaint" that Spencer heard on September 15.

After the conclusion of that hearing, at which Arnold believes CEW was roundly spanked, he argues that the clock on the original attorneys fees started ticking. However, CEW's attorneys contacted Arnold's legal rep and asked for a delay until October 15, which he sees as excessive and politically motivated: "They're trying to draw it out not as a matter of principle, but more like, 'Ha, ha, we've got your money. We know you've got a cash crunch. We're going to hang onto it as long as we can to screw you.'" As such, Arnold's lawyers rejected the extension request and have asked that Spencer order CEW to pay up soon, not several weeks from now.

Does Toro agree with this characterization? Fat chance.

Toro says Judge Spencer tossed out the first Colorado Ethics Watch complaint because "we filed the case too soon" -- prior to the date when judges were required to declare their candidacy.

Spencer "thought there should be some penalty for that," Toro concedes, "but he would not determine any penalty until after a final decision, which we're still waiting for." A ruling on the September 15 hearing is expected next week.

In the meantime, Toro says Arnold "wants to jump the gun. So now, they're filing prematurely after arguing that we filed prematurely."

On top of that, Toro continues, "their filing shows they've never been charged attorneys' fees. That came out at the hearing. If you look at the affidavit, it says these are the fees that are billed, or about to be billed. So I have no evidence they paid a penny -- we asked for a fee agreement and they haven't given it to us -- and we thought the case was being done pro bono. They're running around say they're out tens of thousands of dollars, but their disclosure doesn't say that."

Regarding the request for a delay until October 15, Toro characterizes it as a standard procedural move intended to correspond with the judge's original order -- and hardly the kind of thing most folks choose to make a public issue. But rather than go into more detail, he says, "I'm not going to roll in the mud with this guy."

Funny: Arnold sees CEW's original complaint as an effort to "sling mud, divert attention and tie up resources, which is extremely unethical on the part of Colorado's so-called Ethics Watch."

That muddies things up quite nicely, don't you think?

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