Anyone who's watched Denver television in recent years has likely seen commercials of attorney Frank Azar, who's branded himself "The Strong Arm" — and who makes it clear that he's willing to grill insurance companies on behalf of his clients.
But Azar's the one on the hot seat now — for reasons he sees as absolutely ridiculous.
In the Democratic primary race to succeed Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, a contest that will be decided in a vote scheduled for Tuesday, June 28, the campaign supporting Beth McCann — a longtime legislator and former member of both the Denver DA's office and the Colorado Attorney General's office — has been raising questions about a $50,000 donation Azar made to a superpac backing fellow DA candidate Michael Carrigan, an attorney and current University of Colorado Boulder regent.
The money appears to have been used to fund a flier that features an unpleasant-looking photo of McCann and content that her campaign finds objectionable.
Here's a look at that flier.
While McCann declined Westword's request to speak specifically about this topic, her campaign manager, Daniel Aschkinasi, has been highlighting the donation of Azar, one of several lawyers to open his wallet on behalf of Carrigan. (As first reported by Colorado Independent, personal-injury attorney Michael Sawaya offered up $5,000, while lawyer Norm Brownstein gave $1,000.)
"Our question all along has been, what does Frank Azar get out of donating $50,000 to the DA's race?" Aschkinasi says. "Particularly because his personal-injury law firm really doesn't have too much of an intersection with the DA's office."
To date, Azar hasn't publicly addressed this issue. But during an interview with Westword, he essentially answered the McCann campaign's inquiry with a single word — nothing — and several guffaws.
If that's the case, why donate $50,000 to Citizens for a Strong and Fair Public Advocate, the political action committee advocating for Carrigan? According to Azar, admiration for Carrigan's father, former attorney and U.S. District Judge Jim Carrigan, who died in 2014.
"His dad was a partner in a law firm, the first law firm I ever worked for, 35 years ago," Azar says. "His dad was a great guy and was very nice to me when I first started practicing law. I don't practice criminal law; I have nothing to do with the district attorney's office at all, period. So I just did it because of his dad. His dad was a great judge and a great person."
When told about Azar's explanation, Carrigan sounds surprised. "I didn't know what his motivations were," he pointed out. "I haven't been able to talk with him."
Nonetheless, hearing about Azar's comments only stokes Carrigan's frustration about other issues he has with the McCann campaign, which he accuses of "total hypocrisy," in part because "they have their own superpac that is supporting Beth McCann. They've made a bunch of slick videos for her, and Beth knows about it."
That's close, but not precisely so. An outside organization has indeed put its money into videos like this one....
Its name: the Colorado BlueFlower Fund, which Aschkinasi describes as "an independent expenditure group that's spending money on a number of women candidates in this year's election.
"Beth is by no means the only recipient of support. She has been affiliated with the BlueFlower Fund since it was started. She is on their advisory board. That being said, I should clarify there is no coordination, communication, anything other than the endorsement process we went through with their fund."
To Aschkinasi, the distinction between the BlueFlower Fund's broader mission and the pro-Carrigan Citizens for a Strong and Fair Public Advocate is important. To Carrigan, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. And that's not to mention the fact that the McCann campaign put out a flier prior to the one released by the pro-Carrigan superpac's that he sees as even more objectionable than the one that goes after her.
Here's that flier:
"She lays out these different issues that she stood up for and I supposedly didn't — like 'additional funding for services of domestic violence' or 'voted to repeal the death penalty,'" Carrigan says. "And what's incredibly misleading about that is that these fliers are suggesting she cares about these issues and I don't. But she's relying solely on the fact that these things came up in the legislature, where I don't have a vote. So we have a campaign here that sent out the first negative mailing in this race — and I find it incredibly hypocritical that they're attacking me for doing the very same things," even though he can't coordinate with the superpac backing him.
Aschkinasi's response? He says that everything in the pro-McCann flier is factual, even though "we understand that Michael Carrigan has never been elected to the state legislature and therefore never had the opportunity to vote to oppose the death penalty."
The death penalty has been another bone of contention between Carrigan and McCann. They both are against capital punishment, but Carrigan accuses McCann of flip-flopping on the issue. Aschkinasi denies that, with some qualifications.
"Beth McCann voted in 2009 to abolish the death penalty and has been on the record a number of times saying she is fundamentally opposed to it," he emphasizes. "There may have been instances where the question was brought up where she said this is an issue that needs further consideration, further thought. But it is worth pointing out that prior to 2009, she was no in a position as an elected official or otherwise, other than in the DA's office, where the death penalty would have come up. And even in the district attorney's office, she was never the DA. So anything related to the death penalty would have come to the DA's desk."
Carrigan, for his part, points to an interview with McCann and radio host Craig Silverman that took place in February 2015, after she announced her intention to run for district attorney. During that conversation, she said, "You know, I am personally opposed to the death penalty. I voted with... When we had it in the legislature, I voted to repeal it. However, it is the law, and I would enforce it if I were elected DA, because it is currently the law and the majority of Coloradans at this point seem to support it, so in an appropriate case I would. I would enforce it."
To access the podcast, click here. The quote above is shared at around the 41:35 mark.
The irony about all this sniping is that, as Aschkinasi concedes, McCann, Carrigan and the third Democratic candidate for DA, Ken Boyd, "are very similar in a lot of ways. They all believe in making changes in our justice system that will better the public of Denver."
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As for Azar, he says, "I've only met Michael Carrigan three or four times. A friend of his, Brian Duffy at Greenberg Traurig [another Denver-area law firm], asked me if I'd help support him, and I said, 'Sure,' because of his dad. Brian was [Jim Carrigan's] clerk for a number of years and very close to his dad, and I said, 'Sure.'
"I don't want any political favors from anybody," he adds. "I give a lot of money to the Democratic Party and I give a lot of money to Republicans, and I've never asked for political favors from anybody, ever. I don't know why they're making a big deal over this. Politics, I guess. If Beth McCann had called me up and asked me for money, I would have given her some, too."