Former EP Mayor settles lawsuit filed against Word of Life Bishop

Cook was seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and attorney fees

Former Mayor settle lawsuit with Word of Life Bishop

EL PASO, Texas - Former El Paso Mayor John Cook and Bishop Tom Brown have reached a settlement in a contentious legal fight that has lasted nearly five years.

ABC-7 has learned the terms of the settlement are confidential.

"Both sides came to a compromise and as I like to say, compromise is the art of making no one happy," Cook said, "Everyone had to give something up to come to a settlement."

Cook was seeking about $700,000 in damages and attorney fees he racked up attempting to prove Brown's recall efforts against him were done illegally.

The issue stems from then Mayor Cook supporting health insurance benefits for gay and unmarried partners of city employees. Brown in 2010 led a successful ballot initiative to repeal the city council's decision but the council still upheld it.

Brown and other members of El Paso's religious community were angered and initiated a recall effort against Cook and then city representatives Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega.

Cook argued Brown and his Word of Life church, a non-profit, broke the law in 2011 by raising money, submitting a petition and calling for a recall election.

"To practice free speech is fine. There are legal ways you can do it. You can form political action committees, you can be upfront with it. You don't have to break the law in order to have your free speech," Cook told ABC-7 in 2011.

The city of El Paso declined to cover the then-mayor's legal bill.

Attorneys for the city said the recall election was a political process and as such, the city is not supposed to take sides. The former mayor argued he was sworn to defend the law and, since he believed petitioners broke election laws, the city should have backed him up.

The recall effort became incredibly contentious.

"This has been a case that has tried the patience of many people. There are a lot of strong feelings that people hold dearly about a lot of different issues. And this case brought out a lot of those feelings and that's okay because everybody is entitled to their view,"  Cook's attorney Mark Walker said, "We just wanted to make sure that within the scope of what we do as a civilized society, that law matters and that we do things according to the rule of law."

Brown's attorney, Jerad Wayne Najvar, told ABC-7 in March, "It's outrageous to have a situation where you have a powerful political official, who's going after a group of people who stepped up and said we want to recall this political official."

Monday, Joel Oster, another attorney representing Brown sent the following statement:

"Bishop Brown agreed to settle the case with Mayor John Cook rather than face the possibility of losing his church," Oster said, "Although the law is clearly on Bishop Brown's side, and he would most assuredly prevail on appeal, losing his church was just a risk he was unable to take. However Bishop Brown's counterclaim against the city is still ongoing for violating his constitutional rights."

Cook said he did not resent Brown or regret his decision to support health insurance for gay partners of city employees. He said he'd take the same stance even if he knew what it would bring.

"Quite frankly I never let anything bother me. I wake up every day and I thank god for giving me another day. I was prepared to fight for what I thought was right. I don't think I'll be going to the word of life church to worship but no hard feelings."

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