Frank Azar, the high-powered personal injury attorney, is suing his law firm’s insurance company because it isn’t covering the costs his firm has incurred defending against claims by a former employee.
That employee, an attorney named Ivy Ngo, says Azar defamed her and tried to ruin her career.
The dispute began in February 2020, when Franklin D. Azar & Associates sued Ngo. Ngo was the lead class action attorney in the Azar firm from early 2018 until early 2020, when Azar says she was fired for trying to lure some of Azar’s clients and attorneys to another firm.
In October of that year, Ngo countersued, claiming that Azar and his firm had spread lies and defamed her as part of “a smear campaign” aimed at destroying her career. Her attorney, Robert Marsh of Denver’s S&D Law, wrote that Ngo sought to leave Azar’s firm in late 2019 and early 2020 because she was “uncomfortable with the firm’s culture of heavy drinking and drug use” during work hours.
The claims were made in a document that BusinessDen obtained from the state’s public court website. After BusinessDen asked Azar’s attorneys about Ngo’s claims in the court filing, that filing was removed from the court website. Ngo did not include evidence in the document.
In a subsequent court filing, Meghan Martinez, an attorney for Azar, called Ngo’s accusations “harassing, cruel and derogatory” as well as entirely untrue.
Denver District Court Judge Christopher Baumann called some of the accusations “scandalous” and not relevant to Ngo’s defamation claims. In September 2021, he ordered Marsh to remove several sordid accusations about Azar from the lawsuit.
But Baumann did not dismiss Ngo’s countersuit entirely, as Azar had hoped. As a result, both Azar & Associates’ original lawsuit against Ngo and Ngo’s counterclaim against Frank Azar and the firm have moved ahead simultaneously. The case is now in the discovery phase.
According to Ngo, she was hired by Azar to create a class action department at the firm. She recruited eight experienced attorneys and earned the firm an estimated $1.5 million in fees but that wasn’t enough for Azar, who wanted her department to be more profitable, Ngo claims.
In September 2019, a few months before Ngo was fired, Azar laid off four attorneys in the class action department and threatened to lay off the remaining attorneys who worked under Ngo, according to her counterclaim. Ngo says Azar began excluding her from important meetings as well.
Ngo claims that Azar fired her when she tried to find another job. He and his law firm then contacted her clients and prospective employers and falsely told them that she had been fired for stealing trade secrets and mishandling confidential information, according to her counterclaim.
Ngo claims that Azar offered her $50,000 and promised not to sue her if she agreed to not compete with the Azar firm. After she declined and sought work elsewhere, Azar called three prospective employers of hers and falsely accused her of wrongdoing, according to Ngo. She says that one firm she was working for limited her access to clients as a result of Azar’s claim.
“Mr. Azar and the firm did not stop at in-house slander and lying to clients,” her countersuit states. “They went after Ms. Ngo’s livelihood directly on at least three separate occasions.”
In a subsequent court filing, Azar’s attorneys denied Ngo’s department earned $1.5 million in legal fees but acknowledged Azar was frustrated with the department’s performance. His attorneys denied Azar laid off much of Ngo’s department and excluded her from meetings.
Azar’s attorneys acknowledged that Ngo was offered a separation agreement that included a $50,000 offer. They denied that he defamed her in talks with clients and other law firms.
Attorneys for Azar and the Azar law firm declined requests for comment.
Ngo, who now works as a class action attorney with the Miami office of Roche Freedman, did not respond to requests for comment. Marsh, her attorney, declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Azar and his firm sued Executive Risk Indemnity, a New Jersey company, in Denver District Court on April 29, alleging a breach of contract. The insurance company has only agreed to cover 10 percent of the costs that the Azar firm will incur from Ngo’s countersuit, according to the Azar firm. The firm believes Executive Risk Indemnity should cover all costs.
Requests for comment from Executive Risk Indemnity’s parent company were not answered.