Occasionally I find something interesting that has nothing to do with oil and gas law, and I file it under “something completely different.” John Browning, a Dallas attorney, law professor and historian, has written the story of a remarkable man, John N. Johnson, who was the first African-American lawyer in Austin and the first African-American admitted to practice before the Texas Supreme Court. Johnson also taught school and published a newspaper. Browning’s account of Johnson’s accomplishments also gives us a taste of what it was like to practice law in Texas at the end of the 19th century. Browning’s article, an excellent read, can be found here.
From the Energy Information Administration:
The General Dynamics shipyard in San Diego delivered the world’s first liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered containership to TOTE Maritime on October 16. The 764-foot long Isla Bella is the first of the Marlin class, a new class of container ship built in the United States, making it Jones Act-qualified for shipments between U.S. ports. The ship was built by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, a division of General Dynamics.
(Click to enlarge)
Delivered nearly two months ahead of schedule, the Isla Bella will operate out of Jacksonville, Florida, providing service to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The second ship of the class, the Perla del Caribe, will be delivered in early 2016 and will service the same trade route. These ships join a small group of LNG-powered ships, which currently number fewer than 100, excluding LNG tankers, according to data from DNV GL Maritime. They are the first in the largest category of vessels–container ships, numbering in the tens-of-thousands–to be built with dual-fuel propulsion intent on employing LNG as the primary fuel.
Everyone knows this quote and that it is from Shakespeare. It is from Henry VI, Part 2. And it has generated some controversy.
Defenders of lawyers (mostly lawyers) say that it is misunderstood and was intended as a “complement to lawyers and judges who protect the people from tyranny and anarchy.” This argument stems from the identity of the character speaking, Dick the Butcher, a dastardly villain and follower of the rebel Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne and a sort of libertarian. Dick the Butcher was supporting Jack Cade’s campaign and encouraging him in his quest for anarchy.
But not so fast, say others. In fact, Dick the Butcher is making a joke, as Shakespeare was wont to do, at the expense of lawyers.
On August 30, 2013, the Texas Supreme Court decided two cases involving the Episcopal Church of the United States. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the cases, making the results final. (In case you’re wondering, this has nothing to do with oil and gas. The cases are of interest to me as an Episcopalian.) The two cases were basically a fight over ownership of church property. The parties engaged some of the most powerful firms and lawyers in the state, and multiple amicus briefs were filed. And the cases grapple with the right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
There are about 4.5 million Episcopalians in the U.S. — fewer than the number of Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Lutherans, or Presbyterians. Episcopalians, however, are often some of the elite and most powerful members of society in the U.S. The Episcopal Church in America was founded in 1789 and is a part of the Anglican Communion, which has about 80 million members worldwide. The Church is associated with and has its roots in the Church of England, founded by Henry VIII when Pope Clement VIII refused to approve the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
The two cases decided by the Texas Supreme Court last year, The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth v. The Episcopal Church, and Masterson v. The Diocese of Northwest Texas, have their genesis in the consecration of Gene Robinson by the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2004 — the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. In response, the Diocese of Fort Worth voted in 2007 and 2008 to withdraw from the Episcopal Church and enter into membership with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, a group of Anglican churches in South America. And the Diocese claimed to still own the properties of the churches within the Diocese of Fort Worth. (Three churches in the Diocese did not agree with the Diocese’s action and withdrew from the Diocese; the Diocese transferred property used by those churches to them.)
The 520,000-acre Waggoner Ranch is for sale for $725 million — about $1,400/acre. It is said to be the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S., and has been owned by the Waggoner family for more than 100 years.
Ownership of the Waggoner Ranch has been in litigation for more than 20 years. The suit was originally filed in 1991 by Electra Waggoner Biggs, one of the heirs, who died in 2001. Electra was a sculptor; her sculpture of Will Rogers on his horse Soap Suds is on the Texas Tech University campus.
The colorful history of the Waggoner family was documented in an article by Gary Cartwright in Texas Monthly in 2004. It’s a great read.
Recently my son was watching the movie “Holes,” a great adventure movie based on a book by the same name written by Louis Sacher in 1988. Sacher also wrote the screenplay for the movie, which came out in 2003. In the story, Stanley Yelnats IV, a teenager, is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp, for stealing a pair of sneakers. Green Lake was a dried-up lakebed in Texas where the camp detainees were forced by the evil warden (played by Sigourney Weaver) to dig holes looking for a buried treasure. It’s a great growing-up story.
The movie reminded me that Green Lake is a real place in Texas that has its own fascinating legal history.
Green Lake is the largest natural fresh-water lake in Texas. Located in Calhoun County near the coast, it covers an acre of about 10,000 acres.
In the later chapters of The Quest, Daniel Yergin summarizes the history of the internal combustion engine. He begins by recounting a meeting of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison at a convention in August 1896, at which they sat together. Ford had just built his first gasoline-powered “quadricycle.” He sketched out his design to Edison. Edison told him that the problem with electric-powered vehicles is that they “must keep near a power station.” Edison told Ford to stick with the internal combustion engine.
The internal combustion engine was invented by Nikolaus Otto. His “Otto cycle” engine, developed in 1876, is still recognizable in our engines today: valves, a crankshaft, spark plugs, and a single cylinder. Otto teamed with Karl Benz to produce automobiles, and Gottlieb Daimler was in close competition. (In the twentieth century, the two companies merged, though Benz and Daimler never met each other.) By the 1890’s Daimler was distributing his cars in America.
Germany competed with France — with the French engineers Armand Peugeot and Louis Renault — for supremacy in the development of the automobile. Britain was initially left behind because its railway industry, fearing competition, got Parliament to pass the Red Flag Acts that limited “road locomotives” to four miles an hour in the country and two miles an hour in cities — as well as requiring a man carrying a red flag to walk in front of road vehicles hauling multiple wagons.
I recently came across a study just published by a group of sociology professors testing our ability to make decisions based on facts. It takes a little explanation, but it is worth looking at. The question they asked: Why does public conflict over societal risks persist in the face of compellng and widely accessible scientific evidence? To find out, the professors asked 1,111 participants a series of questions designed to gauge their political views, and then they were asked to solve a word math problem. Half of the participants were given the following problem:
The correct answer? Patients who used the skin cream were more likely to get worse than those who didn’t. Roughly 1 in 3 patients who used the skin cream got worse, but roughly 1 in 5 of those who didn’t use the skin cream got worse. Solving the problem requires skill in “numeracy”, basically the ability to solve math problems. (For the study, the data were reversed for half of the participants and presented so that they suggested that the skin cream did work.) 59% of those in the study got the answer wrong. The more “numerate” the study participants were, the more likely they were to get the problem right. That was true whether the participants were liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans.
The other half of the participants were given a different problem: they were asked to determine the effectivenes of laws “banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns in public.” Participants were given data about cities that had or had not passed concealed carry bans, and where crime in these cities had or had not decreased. The numbers used in this problem were exactly the same as those in the skin-rash problem. The results are shown below:
State Representative Harold Dutton, Jr. has introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature to amend Texas’ Open Beaches Act. What does this have to do with oil and gas, you may ask? Read on.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court decided a case interpreting the Open Beaches Act, Severance v. Patterson, 370 S.W.3d 705 (Tex. 2012). The case arose because of Hurricane Rita. Carol Severance owned two beachfront houses on Galveston Island, as rental properties. Because of Hurricane Rita, erosion shifted the beach vegetation line farther landward, causing both homes to be located on the dry beach facing the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, under the Open Beaches Act, the Commissioner of the General Land Office informed Severance that she would have to remove the houses and offered her $40,000 assistance to relocate or demolish them. Severance then sued the Commissioner in US District Court claiming that the Commissioner’s action constituted a taking of her property without compensation under the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. Her case was dismissed, and she appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. That court, after analyzing the case, concluded that Texas law was unclear on the matter, and it submitted “certified questions” to the Texas Supreme Court.
To understand the significance of Severance v. Patterson, it is necessary to go back a ways, to the Texas Supreme Court case of Luttes v. State, 324 S.W.2d 167 (1958). In that case, Mr. Luttes was claiming to own about 3,400 acres of “mud flats” lying on the edge of the Laguna Madre in Cameron County. The State of Texas holds title to all submerged lands along the coast, including lands within the Laguna Madre, the long, shallow lagoon that runs between the mainland and Padre Island along much of the Texas Gulf Coast. Mr. Luttes contended that these mud flats were part of his “dry land”, and not “submerged land” belonging to the State.