Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Judge blocks family from Kenedy estate
Fernandez trying to prove his mom is heiress to land
By Neal Falgoust Caller-TimesMarch 28, 2006
SARITA - Another attempt by Dr. Ray Fernandez to tie his family's legacy to that of South Texas rancher John G. Kenedy Jr. has failed.
State District Judge J. Manuel Banales granted summary judgment Monday to the charities that now control more than 400,000 acres of oil-rich land valued at nearly $1 billion. The ruling essentially blocks any claims Fernandez and his family have tried to make on the estate.
A Fernandez family attorney, however, said he could appeal the ruling to the 13th Court of Appeals.
"We're certainly not done yet," said Marcos Ronquillo.
For nearly six years, Fernandez, the Nueces County medical examiner, has sought to prove that his mother, Ann, is Kenedy's biological daughter. His legal battle has focused on two fronts: reopening the legal proceeding surrounding the Kenedy estate and fighting for the exhumation of Kenedy's body for conclusive DNA testing. The Texas Supreme Court heard legal arguments last fall in the exhumation, and a decision is pending.
But Banales' decision Monday could render any decision in the exhumation practically irrelevant. Even if Fernandez can establish a blood relationship with Kenedy, Monday's ruling blocks his family from making a claim against the estate.
Fernandez's suspicions about his heritage began when his grandmother Maria Rowland Goates made a deathbed statement on Mother's Day in 2000 that he "looked like his grandfather, Johnny Kenedy."
That mysterious statement led Fernandez to research his lineage, which he says leads to the South Texas ranching legend. The Kenedy family settled the desolate stretch of coastal desert more than a century ago.
Kenedy's grandfather, Mifflin Kenedy, the son of Pennsylvania Quakers, made a career on riverboats and helped transport troops to the Rio Grande during the Mexican War. In 1850, he formed a riverboat partnership with Capt. Richard King, namesake of nearby Kingsville. The family land is now held by the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the John G. Kenedy Jr. Charitable Trust.
After Banales' ruling, Fernandez said he would continue to fight for his mother, who he claims could be Kenedy's daughter.
"I have an obligation to my mother to work on this," he said. "I'll still continue with my obligation. It's a matter of justice for my mom."
The issues involved in the case are as much legal as they are cultural and historical. Part of Ronquillo's argument Monday focused on historical discrimination that could have prevented Ann Fernandez from coming forward to make a claim. Ann was 23 at the time of Kenedy's death in 1948 and said she had some suspicion that she was his daughter.
Now that the revelations have become public, Ann has a constitutional right to have her case heard in court, and the charities are infringing on that right by blocking her claims, Ronquillo said.
"So far, she has not had that," he said. "We're trying to prove she is the heir and they're blocking us at each and every turn."
That argument did not convince Banales, who sided with the charities in determining that various questions in the Kenedy estate had been settled many years ago and the estates closed.
Foundation attorney Jorge Rangel said reopening estate issues would cause uncertainty for an organization that helps thousands of people through its charitable efforts.
"Time has already passed," he said. "You cannot turn back the clock."
In making his ruling, Banales said, "This court firmly believes in finality of judgment."
Attorneys in the case will meet again at 10 a.m. today in Banales' Nueces County courtroom to argue a temporary restraining order that prevents the Fernandez family from filing a claim in other courts.
Contact Neal Falgoust at 886-4334 or HYPERLINK mailto:email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org