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In 1974 Mel Fisher was introduced to me by a former student, David Paul Horan, who had undertaken the formidable task of representing the controversial treasure hunter. I remember well telling David to forget about clients looking for sunken Spanish treasure. Instead, get yourself some personal injury and divorce cases with real fees. Fortunately, David rejected his professorís advice. A couple of years later, the Professor succumbed to the treasure bug, initially being a team member during the litigation before Judge Mehrtens involving first the claim of the United States and then the claim of the State of Florida to the Atocha. Bleth McHaley, who had come with the original Fisher band of treasure hunters from California, and I, assisted by David, Dean Josh Morse, law students, Beth Daniels and Randi Franks, drafted the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law that were substantially adopted by Judge Mehrtens in his decision involving the State of Florida. This famous and often quoted decision was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals and culminated in a favorable ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States. Bleth, now deceased, was an invaluable member of the treasure team and still sorely missed.
Later, with the initial assistance of Bob Moran and his wife, Mel and I were able to negotiate a settlement concerning the 1715 fleet with Florida Attorney General Jim Smith and Florida Secretary of State George Firestone. Through the continued assistance of Tom Gardner, who then was the Florida Assistant Secretary of State, a new and continued cooperation with the State of Florida and the Mel Fisher companies ensued. This cooperation has flourished and exists to this day, protecting the interests of the Salvors, as well as the heritage and interests of the State of Florida and its citizens.
In Texas (I am a Texas lawyer) lawyers would often say the fastest way to clear title to property was to drill a dry hole; the fastest way to hear from unknown heirs was to drill a producing well. The same is more than true in treasure hunting. The more gold you find, the greater the litigation, often spawned by jealousy, envy, and greed under the cover of self-conferred righteousness. Mel thought he was in the full time treasure business; unfortunately, he was in the full time legal business.
Mel and I became the best of friends and I have many fond and cherished memories of a really great person who enjoyed and appreciated life. He had unbelievable faith and perseverance. He handled failure and success with equal aplomb and dignity, always seeking the best from every situation. His leadership inspired trust, confidence, dedication, and success.
I am still actively involved in all aspects of the operation, except the most important-the actual finding and recovery of artifacts. The treasure team continues work and will continue for years to come under Melís battle cry, "Todayís the day!" The legal business also will continue unabated.
Did you know Mel? Would you like your story included?