GOLDEN, Colo. - A First Judicial District judge has repeatedly ruled on medical malpractice cases involving Exempla Lutheran Medical Center, despite his brother serving as a top executive at the healthcare facility, a CALL7 investigation found.
Judge Christopher Munch has presided over at least four malpractice cases between 2000 and 2009 when his brother, David, was chief operating and then chief clinical and quality officer for Exempla Lutheran Medical Center, court records and David Munch's social network account shows.
Attorneys who filed the cases against Exempla told the CALL7 Investigators that they didn't know about the conflict of interest until the CALL7 Investigators told them.
"I learned about this yesterday from you and it was a complete surprise to me," attorney Brad Pollock. "I've never had any knowledge or information at all that Judge Munch had any relationship with regard to anybody at Exempla Lutheran."
Pollock's client had injured his hand and believed he did not receive proper care for the injury. In the case, Exempla filed a motion to dismiss them from the lawsuit, and Pollack asked for a few additional days to respond to the dismissal request.
Pollack said Munch never gave him a chance to reply.
"I received an order from the court and I believe that was on a Wednesday saying the motion had been denied and then that next Tuesday the court dismissed my entire claim against Exempla Lutheran," Pollock said.
"Suprising?" CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia asked.
"Very surprising," Pollock said. "You would expect that, even if it's going to be denied, there would be some amount of time that the court would add in saying, 'Get me a response in this time.' And you certainly wouldn't have expected that within two to three working days the courts going to dismiss the claim itself."
Munch declined an on-camera interview, but did tell Ferrugia off-camera that his brother had worked for Exempla Lutheran and, "If I didn't disclose that, it's wrong."
"I understand (the plaintiff's attorneys) would be stunned and upset," Munch said. "I have made disclosures in cases. I certainly should have disclosed it."
Rebecca Aviel, a legal ethics professor at the University of Denver, said it's clear Munch had a responsibility to inform attorneys in the case who likely would have asked him to move the trial to another judge.
"Judges are required to conduct themselves in a way that avoids impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. That's critical because one of the things that's so crucial for our democracy to function, is that people trust the judiciary," she said. "If he doesn't disqualify (himself) I think we have a really clear violation of the code of judicial conduct."
One attorney has filed a motion to remove Munch from his current case even though his brother is no longer with the Exempla.
Several lawyers who have appeared before Munch in cases involving Exempla Lutheran have met with the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association to discuss whether formal complaints should be filed against Munch. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs whose cases may have been prejudiced have any recourse. Lawyers involved say the cases are beyond the time period for appeal and the statute of limitations on the claims have run out.