July 2013 Bar Bulletin
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July 2013 Bar Bulletin

A Lesson in Real Trust

By Brian J. Waid


I practiced law in the New Orleans area for many years prior to moving to Seattle in 1996. Our firm had two offices south of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Louisiana law, as most of our dear readers know, is based on French civil law and the Code Napoleon of 1804, rather than the English common law. Application of the Napoleonic Code frequently (but not always) produced results quite similar to those arrived at under common law. However, the terminology was so distinctive that any Louisiana bar examiner could immediately spot those lawyer wannabees trained in other states.

For example, counterclaims are "reconventional demands." A defense motion, other than a summary judgment motion, is an "exception" - whether declinatory, dilatory or peremptory. An easement is a servitude; a life estate is, more or less, a usufruct. The beneficiary of a usufruct is a usufructuary upon whose death the property devolves to the "naked owner." You get the idea: a whole different language that Louisiana lawyers play to the hilt when dealing with non-Louisiana lawyers, clients and adjusters.

Now, I must confess that I never developed a keen interest in the law related to real estate or trusts. Still, it was always interesting to go into the Plaquemines Parish Clerk's Office and look through the old real estate records, dating back to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and covering the land on both sides of the meandering Mississippi.

In those days, the courthouse was in Pointe a la Hache, a tiny hamlet on the wrong side of the river, consisting of the courthouse, a house, a gas station and Dick's Grocery where fishermen and lawyers ordered and ate their sandwiches at the meat counter. To get there required crossing the river on a small ferry, a ride often beautiful, but downright terrifying during bad weather.

This was before the days of digitization; indeed, microfilm and microfiche were just entering common usage for preservation of court and real estate records. It happened just in time, too, considering that the old courthouse in Plaquemines Parish burned to the ground, and all of the paper records with it, a few years after I departed for the Great Northwest.

As luck would have it, one of my elderly clients, Berniece Ansardi, mentioned in passing that her (deceased) husband's father had owned some marshland in Plaquemines Parish and that they had always wondered what had happened to it, particularly considering that Plaquemines Parish was the largest mineral-producing parish in Louisiana. Sensing an opportunity to do something nice for a very nice lady, I volunteered to check into it on my next visit to the courthouse.

And so I did. Her father-in-law's name, Berniece told me, was Maurice. I thus began searching through the dusty old records looking for real estate transactions by Maurice Ansardi. Nothing. Having come up empty, I turned to the longtime clerk of that court, Allen Lobrano. Lobrano had been the clerk for about 50 years at that time, and quite literally died in office when he fell and mortally struck his head while tumbling down the marble courthouse steps.

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