Roger writing the LAWmag
14
Sep 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Law

Anna Nicole Smith.

To most men, those words evoke "personal" emotions, all intentional on the part of the now deceased namesake. For most women, the reaction is probably "voluptuous" and "classless".

To the media, she is considered to be the penultimate modern "gold digger", a derogatory term which has the same  meaning in estate law as it has on the street (a gold digger is a person who creates and fosters a spousal relationship with a rich, older or sickly person, for the covert and primary purpose not of  love, but of positioning themselves for an interest in the estate of that other person). Another legal term for it is predatory marriage.

If nothing else, Anna Nicole Smith's life and death has created a cottage industry, "Anna Nicole Smith Law", keeping an army of lawyers busy to this day, jumping from jurisdiction to jurisdiction like a traveling circus of business suits.

Anna Nicole Smith on Playboy coverAnna Nicole has had more names than Baghdad Bob had hallucinations.

She was born Vicky Lynn Hogan but she changed that to Nikki Hart while in high school. Later, she changed her  given name to Anna Nicole and then adopted the Smith surname when she married at the age of 17.

She got a job working as a topless dancer at a gentlemen's club in Houston where, in October of 1991, an 89-year-old lawyer and oil tycoon James Howard Marshall, worth $1.6-billion, took a fancy to her.

Anna Nicole's net worth then skyrocketed. Soon, her features were discovered by Playboy and she married her octogenarian boyfriend in June 1994.

She later stated that during their marriage, he promised her half of his estate, and gave her over $6-million in gifts, including two homes.

When Marshall died in 1995, Anna Nicole hoped to be mentioned in his will.

But the will left her  nothing.

She asked the heir, Marshall's son Pierce, to be a nice step-son and give her half.

He declined remarking that Ms Anna was fortunate to have received what she did during the 14-month marriage.

Then, it was alleged on her behalf that the will had been altered after the testator had signed it, to omit gifts to Anna Nicole.

Sadly, all three parties to the legal dispute were dead by 2007, Pierce dying in June of 2006 and Anna Nicole in 2007. But not before competing claims ignited proceedings in both state and federal courts, eventually working its way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Anna Nicole lost the first battle, a six-month jury trial in Texas, which upheld the will.

Anna Nicole Smith Law (ANSL) then  took the case up in federal bankruptcy courts and gained substantial corollary victories, but creating a quagmire of jurisdictional conflict between federal and state courts in probate and estate matters.

ANSL then took it up with the Supreme Court in Washington, asking them to force the Texas courts to consider her favorable federal bankruptcy court rulings.

The case, known to lawyers as Marshall v. Marshall, 547 U.S. 293, was heard in February of 2006, with ANSL's client in full regalia complete with tears at opportune moments during the hearing. The hearing caused quite a media stir in the typically dead-quiet Supreme Court building in Washington.

On May 1, 2006, the Supreme Court unanimously decided the case in favor of ANSL, remitting the matter back to the Court of Appeal in Texas, during which time Anna Nicole married one of her ANSL team, attorney Howard Stern, and gave birth to a baby girl.

In 547 U.S. 293, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg managed to throw in a touch of beautiful law:

"This Court will not take jurisdiction if it should not: but it is equally true, that it must take jurisdiction, if it should.

"We have no more right to decline the exercise of jurisdiction which is given, than to usurp that which is not given."

In brutal legalese, Justice Ginsburg then served up:

"When one court is exercising in rem jurisdiction over a res, a second court will not assume in rem jurisdiction over the same res. Thus, the probate exception reserves to state probate courts the probate or annulment of a will and the administration of a decedent’s estate; it also precludes federal courts from disposing of property that is in the custody of a state probate court. But it does not bar federal courts from adjudicating matters outside those confines and otherwise within federal jurisdiction."

Because of the subsequent death of the parties, the matter is expected to be settled. The client of ANSL, the beautiful voluptuous ex-stripper, leaves a legacy that could not have been anticipated: jurisprudence.

And even after her sudden death on February 8, 2007, her ghost blows wind into the sails of ANSL, providing national legal news copy and more jurisprudence.

On the last day of February 2007, a Florida Court heard arguments as to where she should be buried (in the result, she was buried in the Bahamas).

The first judge ANSL drew in the burial mater was later arrested for smoking pot.

The burial hearing judge, Larry Seidlin, drew a round of professional criticism from American lawyers with his peculiar comments during the hearings such as referring to Anna Nicole's daughter as "my baby". Other Seidlinisms:

"Maybe this eccentric judge can get something done.

"Let's face it. Money is the root of all evil. Am I right?.

"You're going to have me with a box of tissues."

In keeping with Anna Nicole's surreal life, Judge Seidlin shocked legal observers by crying himself as he rendered his judgment.

And so on and so forth, in perpetuity.

A Hollywood spat then exploded over who was the father of her daughter.

As the daughter was transferred from the custody of the stepfather to the natural father Larry Birkhead, custody and name change issues were raised.

Now, Anna Nicole's natural mother wants visitation rights to her grand-child but Birkhead is not keen on it. After all, the grandmother also threw her name in the hat for guardianship of the extremely wealthy infant.

In early September 2007, a book was published that alleges a homosexual relationship between Stern and Birkhead, bringing the inevitable response from ANSL new spokesperson Larry Birkhead

"This is going to be one of the most expensive lawsuit settlements in book-publishing history", causing this writer to emphatically state that he has no assets anyway except for some old, sweaty goalie equipment, he's travelling in Kazakhstan, and any interest he has in Anna Nicole Smith Law is purely academic or by way of fair comment.

References and Further Reading:

  • "Supreme Court sympathetic to former playmate", NBC News, March 1, 2006.
  • "Anna Nicole Smith's wins over justices", CNN.com, August 28, 2006
  • Marshall versus Marshall 547 US 293 at supremecourtus.gov/opinions/05pdf/04-1544.pdf
  • "Court: Bury Anna Nicole Smith in the Bahamas", CNN.com, March 1, 2007
  • "Judge in Anna Nicole Smith Case Charged With Smoking Pot in City Park", Fox News, March 20, 2007
  • "DNA Tests: Larry Birkhead Is the Father of Anna Nicole Smith's Baby", Fox News, April 11, 2007
  • "Larry Birkhead to Sue Over New Book", Associated Press, September 4, 2007

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