ABA book looks at buried treasure and the law

"X" marks the spot on a treasure map, and gold, as they say, is where you find it. But a more practical legal question is this one: to whom does the treasure belong once it is discovered? That's easy - finders keepers, right?

A newly released ABA book, "Buried Treasure: Finders, Keepers, and the Law," sponsored by the Section of Public Utility, Communications and Transportation Law and printed by ABA Book Publishing, seeks to provide the proper legal answers to that question.

The traditional definition of treasure trove followed the old rule of "finders keepers" for those who were lucky enough to stumble across bars of silver, paper currency, abandoned shipwrecks, ancient artifacts or even loot stashed away in an attic or crammed into a mattress. Finding the booty is one thing. Getting to keep it is a whole other issue as this book discusses.

"Buried Treasure" takes an intriguing look at the topic, explaining how the law has considered found or recovered property that was deemed lost, buried, mislaid or abandoned. Making the topic more complicated, once the ownership decision has been made, are the tricky questions that often follow of whether the find was taxable as ordinary income, who were the heirs of the deceased owner, whether there were international treaties involved and what federal criminal statutes might have been violated.

In the 18-chapter book, author Cecil C. Kuhne III divides cases into three categories, depending upon where the treasure was found - in the ground, underneath the sea, and everywhere in between. The courts in each of these disputes wrestled with the question of who should be entitled to possession. He examines a key case for each type of find, describing the case, the legal issues involved and how the case was resolved.

Kuhne is a litigator in the Dallas office of Norton Rose Fulbright LLP. For years he dug up his back yard, ferociously searching for gold doubloons, until someone politely pointed out that the Spanish armada was never really all that close to north Texas.

Published: Fri, Feb 27, 2015