California attorney David Cook specializes in collections. His most challenging debtor: O.J. Simpson.
Now that Simpson has been released from a Nevada prison after serving nine years for a robbery and kidnapping conviction, Cook says he’s ready to start working again. “The good news for me is he’s getting out. The bad news for him is I’m in good health. I’m good to go.”
Cook has been representing the survivors of Ron Goldman for more than a decade. He is working to collect on the multimillion-dollar jury verdict they and the Brown family were awarded after a 1996 civil jury found Simpson responsible for the deaths of Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, the athlete’s former wife.
Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of their murders, but he was ordered to pay $33.5 million after losing the wrongful death suits in 1997. That figure increased twofold, Cook says, because of interest. “I renewed the judgment in 2015 at $57 million. Two years have passed, so now it’s a touch under $70 million.”
Cook says collecting any part of that amount has been anything but easy. Specializing in collections for 43 years, the attorney said he is ready for “round two,” should Simpson earn anything while out of prison. Simpson was released by the Nevada Department of Corrections early Sunday morning.
Malcolm LaVergne, Simpson’s attorney, said he is empathetic to the Goldmans over their loss, and agreed they have a right to collect on the award.
But the Las Vegas lawyer doesn’t hold out much hope for the family, telling CNN, “As far as I know, (Simpson) will be a retiree.”
LaVergne was unhappy with a New York Post article claiming Simpson’s youngest children have made major real estate purchases in Florida. Cook told the Post he wanted to know whether their father helped finance the deals.
“I have no problem if the Goldmans want to go out and do their publicity tours and promote their books and do everything. … They’re professional public figure victims at this point,” LaVergne said. But, he said, “there’s a new sheriff in town” to counter the Goldmans’ claims about his client.
A Goldman family representative was not available for comment.
Simpson’s book has been biggest asset
Ron Goldman’s father, Fred, and other relatives know they can’t lay claim to many of Simpson’s assets, such as his NFL pension, as well as any home he has owned or may own. Members of Simpson’s inner circle say the plan is for Simpson to eventually move to Florida, where state law, experts say, provides him additional protections. The former athlete moved to Florida after the civil judgment.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi wrote a letter to Florida’s Department of Corrections on Friday saying she did not want Simpson to move to her state and asking them to “notify all appropriate authorities of the State of Nevada that the State of Florida objects to the granting of such permission.”
LaVergne lambasted Bondi for the letter, accusing her of exploiting the issue to score political points ahead of elections.
Cook applauded the effort: “Mr. Simpson should pay the judgments due Ron Goldman’s grieved parents. Pam Bondi got it right. The parole board got it wrong.”
The most lucrative asset the Goldmans have been able to grab was the publishing rights to the Simpson book “If I Did It,” which was termed a hypothetical account of the killings. With publisher HarperCollins pulling out of the book deal at the last minute in 2006, Cook knew it was his chance to claim the asset.
“What I recognized at that moment …it dawned on me there’s a reversionary right. HarperCollins is going to kick back the rights back to Mr. Simpson.”
Cook says he beat Simpson, now 70, “to the punch” and got the rights to the unpublished book for the Goldmans.
The volume has sold more than 300,000 copies, landing it on The New York Times’ best-seller list. Cook did not cite an amount the Goldmans have collected from sales.
About the Heisman Trophy
After the civil judgment, Simpson’s Heisman Trophy was ordered sold to help pay off the award. It brought in $230,000. The Goldmans believe they have a claim to the trophy, but they don’t know who has it.
They almost got the suit that Simpson wore when he was acquitted of murder charges in 1995, Cook said. The apparel was owned by Simpson’s former agent, but the family eventually supported a decision to donate it to the Newseum in Washington for display.
Then there is the memorabilia involved in Simpson’s Nevada conviction. He said he was simply trying to reclaim his stolen property from two sports memorabilia dealers. While Simpson wasn’t armed when he confronted the men, at least two of his associates were.
Cook said after a trial he got a call from the Clark County prosecutor. “They said come and pick up your stuff.”
Cook says the memorabilia items amounted to nine deflated game balls, plaques, a tie, sunglasses and family pictures. They gave the items back to Simpson when there were questions over their authenticity, since they didn’t come directly from him.
Relying on the 1997 civil judgment, Cook says his clients will pursue any income that Simpson might generate, especially in the entertainment realm. “I can levy the entity,” the attorney said. “I can grab all of the intellectual property in that entity itself.”
LaVergne, who said he doesn’t know details of Simpson’s retirement income, indicates his client will “be comfortable and able to survive.”
The mother of Simpson’s two youngest children was Nicole Brown Simpson. “They have suffered as much as Fred has, that’s true,” said Cook. “They live in this other world where there’s been a civil court who ruled that their father murdered their mother.”
Cook said the point of the ongoing collection effort is not the money, but the principle.
“There is no closure,” he said. “There’s one thing which is obscene in Fred Goldman’s vocabulary. It’s called closure. There is no closure because closure means there is some sense of Judeo-Christian forgiveness business — and that’s just not gonna happen here. That doesn’t work.”