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Meteorites, pandas and pants

Washington is bereft as China reclaims ownership of the panda cub born here four years. ago. (Washington Post, "National Zoo panda Tai Shan to fly to China on custom FedEx plane.")

So who, or what, will replace Tai Shan in the heart of Washingtonians? The previously endearing Gilbert Arenas is now a felon and has been suspended by the NBA for bringing guns to the workplace, so he's out. Roy Pearson of pants suit fame is quirky, but not in a cute way; he's back in the news this week trying another strategy -- attack the court -- to regain his job as a D.C. administrative judge.

Pet rock to the rescue! Or rather, pet meteorite. Today's Washington Post reports on the dispute over ownership of the "spunky bit of chondrite" that plunged through the roof of a doctor's office on Jan. 18 in Lorton, Va. (previously known mostly as the home of the Lorton Prison). The doctors, Marc Gallini and Frank Ciampi, were planning to donate the meteorite to the Smithsonian and contribute $5,000 to Haiti relief. But as the Post accounts, "Ownership battle brews over Virginia meteorite":

[In] an extraterrestrial soap opera still unfolding, the landlords of the Virginia building that houses the doctors' office now say they are the rightful owners of the meteorite. Museum officials said the landlords informed them, midday Thursday, that they were coming to take the stone out of the Smithsonian by sundown.

Gallini and Ciampi hustled to get a lawyer to fire off a letter to the museum, barring them from releasing the stone, pending resolution of ownership.

The landowners have a rock solid case, we think. In the United States, the property owners own the meteorite. See Law of Ownership and Control of Meteorites by D.G. Schmitt, McEwen, Schmitt & Co. Barristers and Solicitors.

Unless there's something unique in Virginia law? There's no official state rock, but if the Legislature acts quickly to give chondrite that status, then it becomes a cultural artifact subject to different laws altogether. Although that would be a taking...

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.