Padre Island mineral rights verdict, estimated at millions, upheld

08:19 PM CDT on Thursday, June 9, 2005

By DIANE JENNINGS / The Dallas Morning News

A Texas appeals court upheld a historic verdict Thursday awarding a
Mexican-American family mineral royalties from land on Padre Island
that could amount to millions of dollars.

Phone lines across the state and country soon spread the news from the
13th District Court of Appeals to about 300 descendants of the Ballí

Gracie De la Rosa of Dallas heard about the decision over the phone
from her sister Mary.

"I was so happy. After all this time," she said, bursting into tears.
"I'm crying, I'm so excited. I think justice has been served."

The issue in the case was whether Gilbert Kerlin, a New York lawyer,
swindled the family out of mineral rights to land they sold in 1938.
The Ballí family had held title to the land since the 1700s, when a
priest, Padre Nicolas Ballí, received a Spanish land grant.

Padre Ballí's heirs are descendants of his nephew.

Padre Island is named for the priest.

Mr. Kerlin died last year. The attorney for his interests, Horacio
Barrera, could not be reached for comment.

"It's the first time a Mexican-American family wins anything here in
the United States," Ms. De la Rosa said, adding that the victory
itself means more than money. "We would talk about this when we were
kids. Nobody really believed us outside the family. [The decision] is
just like saying all these years it's true. This man cheated us ...
it's a big vindication," she said.

Hector Cárdenas, an attorney who handled the case, is also a family

"This is a landmark case," he said, remembering how he first heard
about his family's ties to the land as a child talking to his

Mr. Cárdenas joined the case as a young lawyer at age 24. He is now
36. The case was first filed in 1993. The family won in district court
after a three-month jury trial in 2000.

That decision was appealed, and the verdict was upheld Thursday.

Mr. Cárdenas said he did not expect the verdict to be appealed

An exact amount of the judgment will be determined in the future, but
Mr. Cárdenas estimated "the judgment could be over $50 million."


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