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Monster Case: Baylor Lawyer helping to stop illegal trade of dinosaur fossils from mongolia

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Recently, Baylor Lawyer Robert Painter (JD '99) found himself involved in a most unusual case. Painter, who has his own law firm in Houston, specializes in catastrophic injury and death cases, brain injuries, and business litigation. However, he also has worked with the government of Mongolia on various issues and that's how he became involved in what we will call "the case of the stolen dinosaur bones." In May 2012, the Mongolian government heard that the 70-million-year-old bones of a Tyrannosaurus Bataar, a cousin of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, were going to be auctioned off in New York City. The Tyrannosaurus Bataar has been found only in Mongolia, so the government there had reason to believe that the bones had been illegally smuggled out of the country. While Painter was no expert on dinosaur bones or the shadowy black market for them, he jumped right into the case, which drew international attention in the media. Painter spoke to Rocket Docket about United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton.

How did you become involved in this case?

Over the past 10 years, I have become good friends with the president of Mongolia, Tsakhia Elbegdorj. During that time period we have worked together on a number of significant projects, including election reform.

Around 6:30 p.m. one Friday last May, one of President Elbegdorj's advisors contacted me to see if there was any legal mechanism that I could use to stop an auction of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus skeleton that was taking place in two days in New York City. The president had only learned of the auction on the previous day. The Tyrannosaurus was believed to have been illegally smuggled out of Mongolia and was being sold by a Dallas-based auction company, Heritage Auctions. At that point, I knew that, as a Texas lawyer, there was definitely something I could do.

How were you able to find a judge who would issue the temporary restraining order?

It is always difficult to find a judge during weekends. It was particularly difficult in this case because venue was in Dallas County, and I am based in Houston. I spent about three hours that Friday evening calling a lot of lawyer friends in the Dallas area, including several of whom I knew from Baylor Law School. One of my former Baylor classmates, Kirk Pittard (JD '99), quickly found two Dallas district court judges who were willing to see me in Dallas on Saturday morning. Kirk was a huge help. Even after we got past the temporary restraining order stage, Kirk and his law partner, Leighton Durham, continued to work with me as local counsel.

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