The Ponca City News, Wednesday, February 25, 1998


Several Kay County Residents Have Interest in Texas Land Suit

By Louise Abercrombie
News Staff Writer

The proving of a 50-year-old lease maybe the "key" to the case in the Balli family's quest to regain land that was granted to their ancestors by the King of Spain in what is now Texas.

The fact that the lease was "proved" is now coming into play in the bigger picture, according Fred Balli of Ponca City. The lease was between Sarita Kenedy East, Mifflin Kenedy's granddaughter and Gustavo Munoz, Balli's great-great-grandson. The lease says the Ballis take possession in 1999 and was proved a year ago.

Currently the land is held by the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation, a charitable foundation created in 1960 by Sarita Kenedy East.

Fred Balli with a number of other Balli descendants, has been fighting the battle to regain their inheritance. Other Kay Countians involved include Fred's brother Ruben, his sisters Sylvia Mossauer and Yolanda Trant, and a nephew David.

A major hurdle has been accomplished by engaging the Dallas law firm of Beckham and Thomas to pursue their interests. The land involved covers 363,933 acres.

Attorney Says Good Case

Attorney Stewart Thomas told The News that the "Kenedy Foundation has been claiming that they own the La Barreta Grant. But a person can only own land two ways by title or by adverse possession (squatters rights). They don't have a good title because no one has ever sold it (the land) to them.

"In order to have a good title they would have to have bought it (the land) from someone. Someone would have had to sell it to them. You can hold property as your own for a certain number of years, but you cannot take property by adverse title possession if you have the right to be there," Thomas said.

He added, "The lease proved that the Balli family as owners leased the property to the Kenedys for 150 years and they therefore cannot prove adverse possession."

The lease was proved on Feb. 19, 1997, in the District Court of Harrison County, Texas, and is signed by Judge Bonnie Leggat.

The document states, "The Court, having heard evidence and argument of counsel, finds that there is sufficient evidence to prove the validity of the lease in question."

Another positive toward getting a fair decision, according to Fred, is that the judge trying the case in Kenedy County recused himself. So a request has been made to have the case moved to Zapata County, where the Balli family has filed a motion of ownership for the estate of Jose Manuel Balli Villarreal.

Beckham and Thomas are not the only lawyers working on the case. "We expect to divide up the tasks and we like to do the strategy and the legal research and then make representation in the trial. We will be a very active participant in all of the fight, but it will be as a team."

Answering how successful people have been in the past fighting the Kenedy Foundation, Thomas said, "I don't know the answer because I've not looked into what types of disputes the Kenedy Foundation has been involved in the past. I don't know that the Kenedy Foundation has ever been involved in a title dispute such as this.

"I know the Balli family has been successful in the past in adjudicating their claims on bringing their claims to ownership of certain parcels of land for example Padre Island was originally granted to the Ballis. There were several law suits when the Balli heirs claimed ownership. The case went to the Supreme Court and the Balli family won. They were the rightful owners."

Questioned about Texas Attorney General Dan Morales going to join the suit, Thomas said, "I don't know but they have that right. If they do that's good and will help us to fight for the rightful owners of the property."

Responding to if the law firm had ever been in a fight of this magnitude before for this large an acreage, Thomas said, "Not quite like this is. This is a pretty rare case."

Thomas commented that the firm has some similar experience in representing hundreds of thousands of shareholders who had been wronged by officers of a corporation.

About the prospects of winning the case, Thomas said, "We are comfortable and we're excited about the prospects. We've looked in it and we've done a careful analysis to determine if it is a good case or not. We believe it is. We believe the Ballis are rightful owners of that land and are entitled to get it back. We think the Kenedy Foundation, when all the facts come out will agree with us."

Asked about a time line, Thomas said, "The wheels of justice grind slowly. We hope to get it resolved in 24 months."