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Rich McKeown was not a household name when he shocked political observers Oct. 3 by finishing first in the Salt Lake mayoral primary. Now, a number of city residents are asking: "Who is this guy?"

The 48-year-old personal injury attorney has not stood for office before but has been active in several Democratic campaigns. He also joined a handful of better-known Democrats in 1992 to endorse GOP gubernatorial can-di-date Mike Leavitt.McKeown has lived in Salt Lake City for more than 20 years, but he was born in Washington and raised in Arlington, Va. He moved to Salt Lake City in the early 1970s with his wife, the former Barbara Badger - a Salt Lake native, and their young family.

McKeown taught junior high school in Virginia and planned to teach in Utah as well. While his schoolteacher wife got a teaching job, McKeown couldn't - local districts had plenty of English teachers. He took a few classes at the University of Utah and then decided to go to law school. He was admitted in 1975 to the U.'s law school.

Graduating in 1978 and upon passing the bar, he and fellow student Brad Parker hung out their shingles and started a practice. In 1978 McKeown had helped neighbor Jim McConkie in McConkie's failed 2nd Congressional District race. One day McConkie "just sat down in one of our vacant offices soon after we opened our practice and never left," McKeown says.

Parker McKeown and McConkie have been together ever since. In the early 1980s the firm started specializing in personal-injury cases.

"We've never hit the big one" - never won a multimillion-dollar settlement that can set up a lawyer or his partners for life, McKeown said. And the partners haven't much represented the big guys in suits, either. "Most of our clients are just regular people; rarely do we represent businesses or industry."

But McKeown's firm has had some big-name cases.

For example, they represented the family of the late polygamist Rulan Allred. Rena Chynoweth, a plural wife of violent cult leader Ervil LeBaron, shot Allred dead in 1977 over a dispute of who would boss local polygamist groups. She was disguised as a man during the murder and a jury later acquitted her. But several years later Chynoweth wrote a book, "Blood Covenant," in which she admitted to the murder. Twenty-eight of Allred's wives and children then sued Chynoweth and won a $52 million wrongful-death award. However, "Blood Covenant" made only $4,000, of which Chynoweth got just 12 percent. She's not rich, and neither the family nor the law firm got much or any money despite the big award.

McKeown also represented the family of a Navajo social worker killed in a plane crash over Kearns in the 1980s. Ironically, Mc-Keown's own father was killed in a commercial-airplane crash in 1971 when McKeown was 24.

"It (the court case) was the most powerful emotion experience of my life. Not just because of my father's death, but also because this good woman had completely turned her life around, only to be killed." The woman had 10 children by two different husbands and had been an alcoholic for years. She stopped drinking and put herself through college and graduate school.

McKeown's firm earlier this year took on the cause of eight West High School students who sued to join the school's choir case. The case since has been dismissed, but McKeown worked to guarantee that the eight students could take choir and still sing "traditional American music" in school. A dissatisfied choir member had sued in federal court to stop the singing of songs with religious references in the lyrics.

McKeown has had two "minor" lawsuits filed against him, he says. In remodeling his house, Mc-Keown paid a contractor for several windows. The man, however, didn't pay his subcontractor, and the subcontractor sued Mc-Keown for payment. McKeown paid the subcontractor. "I paid twice for those windows."

In the 1980s, McKeown took on the case of Barbara Corey, injured in an industrial accident. "I made a mistake in the filing of the case," he admits. Corey believed she could have received a larger settlement if McKeown hadn't erred, and she sued McKeown. McKeown says: "I admitted the error and turned the case over to my (legal malpractice) insurance company. They settled with Barbara." Corey signed a Sept. 9, 1995, letter to McKeown praising how cooperative he was over the matter, regretting that she had to sue him and closing with a ringing endorsement of McKeown's mayoral bid.

"How I handled this mistake - admitting it and taking responsibility - shows a marked contrast with how some other people handle their legal problems," said McKeown - a clear reference to the Bonneville Pacific problems of Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini.