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Cook gets funds to save S.L. home

Former U.S. Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, has saved his Salt Lake Avenues home from the auction block by securing nearly $500,000 to pay a civil lawsuit he lost to his former campaign manager.

The embattled politician's home was scheduled to be publicly auctioned this week by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office. All profits from the sale would have gone against Cook's $448,194 judgment for the three-year legal battle over unpaid campaign costs.

But Cook last month posted a bond through Zions First National Bank and the sale was called off.

Payment of the judgment has been stayed pending the outcome of Cook's appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.

Cook's attorney, Blake Atkin, has filed an appeal with the court and expects a ruling by the end of the year.

Atkin said Cook's house, valued at $361,200 in 1999, was never in jeopardy. The lien against it was nothing more than standard procedure, he said.

"There never was any doubt about his home," Atkin said. "It was just a matter of going through the process of getting the appeal noticed and the bond in place."

Campaign manager Ron T. Nielson's attorney, Craig Coburn, isn't worried about the jury's verdict being overturned by the high court.

"If we win on appeal, which we expect to do, we'll start to see some money," Coburn said. "We just anticipate that the jury's verdict and the trial court's award of fees will be affirmed by the Utah Supreme Court."

Atkin is also optimistic of his client's chances. However, he said, Cook will honor whatever ruling the court hands down.

"If he's not successful on appeal, of course he'll pay the judgment," Atkin said. "That's what we do in this country."

Nielson filed the lawsuit in January 1997, saying Cook failed to pay him for his work on Cook's successful 1996 bid for the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the April trial, Nielson testified he signed a contract to work for Cook early in the campaign. When the contract period was up, Nielson said the two verbally agreed to extend the agreement. Cook, however, testified there was no such extension.

Jurors didn't believe Cook's claim and sided with Nielson, Coburn said.

"He (Nielson) was the Cook campaign. He organized it, he housed it, he staffed it, he ran it," Coburn said. "The fact is, that's the first time in six tries that Cook's ever been elected to office."

Cook was re-elected to Utah's 2nd Congressional District in 1998, but he lost the 2000 Republican primary to Internet entrepreneur Derek Smith. Smith lost the seat to Democratic challenger Jim Matheson in the final election.

Contributing: Associated Press.