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Man wins suit over lost Einstein papers

July 6, 2011 at 6:30 PM

SAN JOSE, Calif., July 6 (UPI) -- A family blamed for a 2007 California wildfire has been ordered to pay $750,000 to a man who lost a collection of letters written by Albert Einstein.

The Lick fire in Santa Clara County south of San Francisco burned almost 50,000 acres and four houses. One was a weekend cabin belonging to Dan Straus, a San Jose State chemistry professor and son of Ernst Straus, a close friend of Einstein's, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Margaret Pavese started the fire when she burned paper plates in a 55-gallon barrel outside her house, leaving it unattended. A jury found her husband and father-in-law responsible as well in a verdict Friday, determining the entire family used the burn barrel and should have known it was dangerous.

David Spini, who represents Ernest Pavese, the father-in-law, said he plans to appeal. He said his client did not even realize he owned part of the property until after the fire.

Straus still has a poem of congratulations Einstein wrote his parents when he was born in 1954. He had brought the other documents, including back-of-the-envelope mathematical scribbles, to his cabin to sort them.

The poem is now in a bank vault, he told jurors during the trial.

"I'd much rather have those papers," Straus said. "But there has been justice."

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