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As litigation clients go, the kingdom of Spain is a surprisingly hot one for Washington, D.C., attorney James A. Goold, of counsel to Covington & Burling. Last July, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals halted an effort to salvage Spanish shipwrecks off the Virginia coast. At issue was the interpretation of a 1763 treaty in which Spain ceded its land holdings east of the Mississippi to Britain. Finding that shipwrecks were not included in that transfer, the court granted Spain’s request to stop planned treasure-hunting of the naval vessels La Galga and Juno, lost in 1750 and 1802. Sea Hunt Inc. v. Kingdom of Spain, No. 992035P. Now Goold’s got another federal court fight, over who controls three Spanish ships — the more familiar Ni�a, Pinta and Santa Maria. HELD HOSTAGE? Goold recently sued a Texas businessman who for a year has held replicas of the ships hostage with maritime liens. He said the suit seeks to remove the encumbrances so Spain can reclaim the ships, two of which have been in dry dock since 1994 in Corpus Christi, Texas. Spain-U.S.A. Foundation as owner of the vessels Ni�a, Pinta and Santa Maria v. Durrill, No. H-00CV4465 (S.D. Texas). The replicas, built with the same techniques and kinds of wood as the originals, sailed to America in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first New World voyage. After sailing into New York Harbor, the ships were leased to a Corpus Christi civic group that planned to make them a waterfront tourist attraction. But in 1994, a barge crashed into the Pinta and Santa Maria, sending them to dry dock, where they are deteriorating from dry rot. The Ni�a is moored but shuttered. The ships’ sails have rotted in storage, Goold said. Among the morass of disputes grounding the ships is how a $1.5 million settlement from the barge crash was spent. The Corpus Christi civic group that leased the ships — the Columbus Fleet Association — is insolvent, and in late 1999 it told Spain to reclaim its ships. Before Spain could retrieve the vessels, liens seeking $600,000 were filed by the Devary Durrill Foundation, which had guaranteed financing for the group’s lease. When the group went broke, the foundation was tapped to pay the note; it spent about $1 million on the ships, including fees for attorneys to haggle over the barge settlement, said president William R. “Dusty” Durrill, an Anheuser-Busch distributor in Corpus Christi. He said that the foundation’s money comes from a 1980′s settlement with Ford after his daughter’s death in a Ford Mustang. Durrill concedes that the liens are “more of an attention-getter” than an effort to recover. “I’m trying to make Spain understand something,” he said. While Corpus Christi struggled to reopen the exhibit, Spain negotiated with a restaurant chain up the Texas coast to display the ships, said Durrill. “I said, ‘Bull hockey. Put a lien on ‘em,’ ” he said. Spanish officials should give a chance to a new Corpus Christi group trying to organize a replacement sponsor for the ships, Durrill added. Indeed, Spain is considering this new group, said Goold, but it also is thinking about relocating the ships to a different waterfront city, perhaps in Florida. He is reviewing proposals, but he notes that the liens have blocked serious offers. Meanwhile, the suit is proceeding to nullify the liens, which, according to Spain’s complaint, were specifically barred under the terms of the lease. Goold said that he hopes the litigation will simply void the liens without getting mired in financial disputes. “The object at this point is to get these issues that stand in the way resolved,” he said. “If we have to go through two years of discovery, it would be a disaster for the ships.” The Durrill foundation’s attorney, W. Robert Anderson III, a partner at Corpus Christi’s Sorrell, Anderson, Lehrman, Maixner & Ridulfo, did not return calls.

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