Frank Azar, the city’s most prominent personal injury attorney, did not defame a former top lawyer at his law firm after she was fired, Denver jurors ruled this week.
A jury of three men and three women instead determined that Ivy Ngo, who once led the class action division at Azar & Associates, breached employment and confidentiality contracts when she tried to recruit colleagues and clients away from the powerhouse firm.
“This was never about the money: it was about justice,” Azar said in a statement. “The jury decisively rejected the baseless allegations and unfounded personal attacks upon myself, my firm and my employees, finding instead that the defendant unlawfully breached her contracts.”
Jurors ordered Ngo to pay Azar & Associates $4,000 as a result of the breaches. Ngo must also pay the law firm’s legal fees, which are sure to be in the six or seven figures.
“From the beginning, this case has raised important issues, both for employees in Colorado generally and for those practicing law in particular,” said Ngo attorney Rob Marsh.
“At this point, it is not clear why the jury arrived at its conclusion, but we are disappointed with the verdict, of course, and evaluating possibilities for appeal to continue to shed light on these issues,” added Marsh, who is with the Denver firm Jester Gibson & Moore.
The verdict, delivered late in the day Tuesday after seven days of trial and a few hours of deliberation, is a tepid end to years of contentious litigation between Azar and Ngo.
In February 2020, Azar & Associates sued Ngo, who it accused of using confidential information to recruit clients and lawyers to a competing firm in late 2019. Ngo ran the class action team at Azar & Associates from January 2018 to her termination in January 2020.
In October 2020, Ngo countersued, claiming Azar and his firm spread lies and defamed her during conversations with clients and prospective employers as part of “a smear campaign” aimed at ending her career. She said she was fired for looking at other jobs.
Ngo asked jurors to determine Azar and his firm committed defamation and order them to pay her $3 million or more. Azar sought about $90,000 from Ngo for breach of contract.
On several occasions in the case’s three-year existence, judges blocked Ngo and her attorneys from making salacious allegations against the Azar firm and Frank Azar himself, including that the firm had a “culture of heavy drinking and drug use” during work hours and Azar exhibited “erratic behavior.” Judges determined they were irrelevant to the case.
It remains to be seen what Tuesday’s verdict means for a related federal lawsuit in which Azar & Associates is suing its insurance company for not agreeing to cover all of the costs it has incurred while defending itself from Ngo’s countersuit. That case is still ongoing.
In other, unrelated cases, Azar is also battling the Internal Revenue Service in U.S. Tax Court over a 2017 tax bill and suing two of his former accountants over their alleged negligence that led to that tax bill. Both cases are scheduled to go to trial next year.
In the Ngo case, Azar and the Azar firm were represented by attorneys Meghan Martinez and Sarah Nolan with the Martinez Law Group in Denver, along with Tamir Goldstein and Jessica Arett with the Denver office of Sherman & Howard.