Supreme Court sympathetic to former Playmate
Supreme Court to decide whether Probate Exception to federal jurisdiction applies in bankruptcy case. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11601459/
Supreme Court sympathetic to former Playmate
Anna Nicole Smith wants another shot at late billionaire husband’s estate
• Day in court
Feb. 28: Supreme Court justices appeared sympathetic toward Anna Nicole Smith as they heard her case over her late husband's estate. MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell reports.
NBC News and news services
Updated: 2:23 p.m. ET Feb. 28, 2006
WASHINGTON - With an oil fortune on the line, former stripper Anna Nicole Smith encountered a sympathetic audience at the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Several justices said they were concerned that the one-time Playboy Playmate was kept from pursuing a piece of her late husband’s fortune.
“It’s quite a story,” said Justice Stephen Breyer.
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Smith married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II in 1994 when he was 89 and she was a 26-year-old topless dancer in Texas. Marshall died the following year. His fortune has been estimated at as much as $1.6 billion.
One of his two sons claims he is the only heir.
Heir allegedly kept Smith away
Breyer said there was evidence that the son hired private detectives to keep Smith away from her elderly husband’s bedside.
Smith’s claim is simple, said Justice David Souter, “just give me the money I would have had.”
The justices are dealing with a technical question: When may federal courts hear claims that involve state probate proceedings? Smith lost in Texas state courts, which found that E. Pierce Marshall was the sole heir to his father’s estate.
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Justices repeatedly referred to the amount of money at stake, and criticized arguments that only a Texas court had jurisdiction to settle the nasty family feud.
“That’s just not the way our system works,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only woman justice.
About two dozen photographers swarmed Smith and her attorney as they left through a side door of the court building after the hearing, then sped away in a black SUV.
Earlier, when she arrived, several photographers were knocked to the ground in their zeal to get a picture of Smith, dressed in a knee-length dress, high heels and black sunglasses.
Smith, the spokeswoman for a diet product company, was awarded $474 million by a federal bankruptcy judge. That was later reduced by a federal district judge and then thrown out altogether by a federal appeals court on jurisdictional grounds.
The legal issue has been presented by lawyers for Marshall’s son as a question of whether state or federal courts have jurisdiction in the matter. They have argued the case belongs in the Texas state court, which determined J. Howard Marshall’s estate belonged to E. Pierce Marshall.
Suing for damages
But the nation’s highest court appeared to see it differently on Tuesday, according to NBC News’ Pete Williams.
Smith’s lawyers argued on Tuesday the case is actually a lawsuit for damages. Smith, whose legal name is Vickie Lynn Marshall, claims lawyers for E. Pierce Marshall tried to cover up legal documents that concealed parts of J. Howard Marshall’s will that designated money for Smith.
According to Smith, part of Marshall’s will was altered after he signed it. She alleges three pages were inserted into it after Marshall signed the trust, MSNBC Chief Washington Correspondent Norah O’Donnell reported on Tuesday.
The eventual ruling, which will determine whether Smith gets another chance at part of Marshall’s estate, is not expected for another few months, according to NBC News.
'It raises the novelty level'
Huge crowds packed the court.
The former Playmate's appearance caused a stir at the court.
Lawyers for Anna Nicole Smith appear to have persuaded a majority of the Supreme Court in her favor, judging from the questions during oral argument.
The lawyers for Pierce Marshall, the Texas oilman's son, presented this as a case about which court -- state or federal -- gets to decide the meaning of wills.
The Supreme Court appeared to see it differently, warming to the argument made by her lawyers that what this case is really about is a much more straightforward issue -- a lawsuit for damages. She claims Pierce's lawyers tried to cover up legal documents that concealed the real intent of J. Howard Marshall, the man Smith married.
A ruling won't likely come for several months yet.
-- Pete Williams, NBC Correspondent
“It raises the novelty level and makes it somewhat more fun,” said Edward Morrison, a former Supreme Court clerk who specializes in bankruptcy law at Columbia University.
Douglas Baird, a bankruptcy expert at the University of Chicago, said: “I’d suspect some justices haven’t the slightest idea who Anna Nicole is.”
The Bush administration is siding with Smith as a technical matter, arguing that the justices should protect federal court jurisdiction in such disputes.
Marshall showered Smith with $6.6 million in gifts that included two homes, $2.8 million in jewelry and $700,000 in clothes, and she contends that he also promised her half his estate.
E. Pierce Marshall said various wills and trusts his father prepared over the years made him the only heir.
A federal court ruled in 2002 that Smith was entitled to compensatory and punitive damages because the younger Marshall altered, destroyed and falsified documents to try to keep her from receiving money from his father’s estate.
The case is Marshall v. Marshall, 04-1544.
NBC News' Pete Williams, MSNBC's Chief Washington Correspondent Norah O'Donnell and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Posted by Professor Vairo on February 28, 2006 04:43 PM|Permalink