- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

DALLAS A civil lawsuit involving some 750 descendants of a wealthy Mexican landowner of the 1800s was tossed out of court here this week, ending one of the most intriguing land battles in recent years.
Senior state District Judge Pat McDowell of Dallas ruled that two documents, one of them 199 years old, were not believable enough to move the case to a jury next month.
"The location where they were allegedly found and the internal content made them unreliable. No other basis exists for their ultimate consideration by a jury," said Judge McDowell's summary judgment remarks.
Lawyers for the descendants of Jose Manuel Balli had introduced an 1804 document that purported to be a bill of sale for 83,000 acres of the Kenedy Ranch, showing Francisco Balli as the owner.
The other document, from 1949, indicates the officials of the Kenedy Ranch leased that acreage about 60 miles south-southwest from Corpus Christi, from the Balli family in 1949. The plaintiffs' argument here was that if the Kenedy Ranch thought it already owned the land, it would not have signed a multiyear lease for oil and gas exploration with the Ballis.
The suit has been festering in south Texas for more than two years with the ramifications readily apparent.
"If the Ballis win this one," said William Bishop, one lawyer associated with a distant Balli relative, "you can look for 50 more to be filed in the next few years.
"Used to be this case would have never gotten this far, but now, with more and more Hispanic lawyers and judges," he added, "it could mean trouble for those who stole these huge spreads and drove the Mexicans out."
Almost 100 Balli family members were in the Nueces County Courthouse in Corpus Christi to hear the judge's order. Several were unhappy with the outcome.
"My grandfather owned LaBarreta," said Raymond Balli, "but they took it from my people. They owe us."
LaBarreta was the name of the spread when the Balli family owned it. Later it became part of the Kenedy Ranch, one of the richest oil- and gas-producing properties in Texas.
Both sides agreed that the land once was owned by Francisco Balli in the early 1880s.
Jorge Rangel, lead lawyer for the Corpus Christi-based Kenedy Foundation, which has utilized the land for generations, said Francisco Balli passed the land on to his son, Pedro Balli, who later sold it to a priest, who willed it to a brother, who then sold it to Mifflin Kenedy.
Kenedy, one of the founders of the famous King Ranch just south of this property willed it to the foundation in 1961.
Hector Cardenas, one of the Balli lawyers, said he planned to appeal to the judge. He said he had proof that Francisco Balli sold his land to Manuel Balli, not Pedro Balli.
"The Kenedy Ranch never took the ownership," he said.
Mr. Cardenas was referring to the 1804 document, a purported bill of sale from Francisco Balli to Manuel Balli for 200 pesos.
"If it is good, and it is," he added, "we win."
The judge noted that both sides had referred to the two documents as "the linchpin" of the Ballis' case. Because the two documents are not admissible in the case, he explained, all evidence points to the foundation as the rightful owner.
Mr. Cardenas said they would continue to fight.

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