Colorado Ethics Watch told to pay Clear the Bench Colorado $13,000 in legal fees

The election may be over, but the political pissing match between Colorado Ethics Watch and Clear the Bench Colorado continues.

The latest? An administrative law judge has ruled that CEW must pay CTBC around $13,000 in legal fees related to a complaint determined to have been filed prematurely -- even though CEW won the day after refiling. CTBC's Matt Arnold considers the results a victory, while CEW's Luis Toro is weighing an appeal.

In a complaint filed in May, Colorado Ethics Watch argued that Clear the Bench Colorado should have filed with the Secretary of State's Office as a political committee, not an issues committee, in regard to its goal of throwing the bums off the Supreme Court. (Under Colorado law, political committees have donation limits that don't apply to issues committees.) The court ruled against CEW because the complaint preceded the deadline for judges to declare their candidacy and ordered the organization to pay CTBC's legal fees.

CEW refiled the complaint after the filing deadline and won, with the judge determining that CTBC had erred in filing as an issues committee. But the legal fees owed from the first filing remained -- and in his latest ruling, on view in its entirety below, the judge ordered CEW to pay those costs he saw as pertaining to the first case but not the second one -- a process that led him to trim about $10,000 from the $23,000 CTBC allegedly tallied in countering the CEW complaints.

Arnold laments the judge's decision to "split the baby" in terms of the judgment amount and fears that the lower amount "may actually encourage this kind of attack. It tells people, if you can deal with the financial cost and bad publicity of having your knuckles rapped, which CEW can, you can go ahead and do it."

Nonetheless, Arnold, who feels his campaign "moved the bar" in terms of criticism of the Colorado Supreme Court even though all the justices were retained, considers the sizable reward to be "a big not just for me and Clear the Bench, but it's also a win in general against these kinds of harassing legal attacks."

Toro disagrees.

"It's really dumbfounding to have the winning party in a case ordered to pay the losing side's attorneys fees," he says. "It's really contrary to anything I've seen in all my years in practice."

As such, Toro notes that "we're exploring our options" in regard to an appeal, which must be filed within thirty days of the judgment," which could have "a chilling effect on filing complaints," in his view.

Not that it'll cool down CEW. "We're going to keep on doing what we're doing," Toro says, "and not be deterred for calling out violations of campaign finance law. Because after all, in this case, we were right. We won" -- albeit on the second time around.

Look below to read the judgment awarding fees to Clear the Bench Colorado:

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Clear the Bench's Matt Arnold: Court win for CO Ethics Watch a victory for big $ over little guy."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts