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Rick Brooks, Hero Of 1990s `Zero-Down' Bankruptcy Court Expose, Has Died

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Now and then in this line of work, you come upon a source so impassioned about his point of view on a volatile subject that you just have to slow him or her down.

Such was the case in the early 1990s when a bankruptcy "referee" named Richard Brooks opened up to us for a series about--stop the presses!--unscrupulous, money-grubbing attorneys who were ripping off their clients like common thieves.

Brooks came to us with the story of a local woman named Ruthie Dennis, whose Chapter 7 bankruptcy paperwork was totally bollixed by a so-called "zero-down" lawyer's firm--actually the predecessor of the big-time advertising firm of Phillips and Associates.

Rather than toss out Mrs. Dennis' case for its inaccuracies, which he certainly could have, Brooks forwarded the case to a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge, Tom Baum, for consideration.

It was a ballsy move.

Along the way, we got wind of the fact that Dennis' case was one of literally hundreds in the Phoenix bankruptcy court system that had been screwed up by an utterly greedy and lazy (bad combo!) crew of local attorneys.

It was off with their heads, metaphorically.

The result was the story linked at the top of this item (plus several follow-ups), for which we won the American Bar Association's coveted Silver Gavel Award.

But we wouldn't have had a story if it hadn't been for Rick Brooks, and his courage in letting us quote him extensively. Rick was a colorful guy, and after we got to know each other a little, he spoke of his true love--which was inventing and building things.

Beyond that, it was easy to suss out the reality that he clearly had led a real--and probably, at times, not so easy--life.

As it happens, we moved along after spending months on the zero-down package, and don't think we ever spoke again.

But that doesn't mean we forgot him.

He was one of the good guys, a fellow with a terrific sense of right-and-wrong.

We noted this morning that Richard "Rick" Brooks Jr. died July 14 after a long illness. He was 60.

The obit in the Arizona Republic said that he had opened a small antiques store with his wife, Jaime, after his stint as bankruptcy referee ended in the late 1990s.

That sounds like fun, and we hope it was.

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