How Many Bites at the Apple? Anna Nicole Smith Case Shows Lawyers Abusing the Law as Much as She Abused Taste

Article excerpt


Attorneys representing Anna Nicole Smith's estate requested that the U.S. Supreme Court intervene in the decade-old case against the estate of her late husband, oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall. The case, known as Marshall v. Marshall, has been under review by federal judges on the Ninth Circuit since 2006.

Frustrated with the 9th Circuit's deliberative pace, the Smith team has once again turned to the Supreme Court to keep its litigation alive. Marshall v. Marshall is a landmark case, if for no other reason than that it was heard by the Supreme Court in 2006. To some, the case is a Hollywood tale of decadence involving a Playboy centerfold and her octogenarian, wheelchair-bound prince charming.

To those in the legal arena, this case is evidence that an audaciously crafted legal scheme targeted at an estate plan could succeed in diverting millions away from its intended heirs.

Here's a quick refresher on how this case began:

At the time of her husband's death, 14 months into their marriage, Anna Nicole Smith discovered that she was left out of her husband's carefully written estate plan. After consulting with attorneys (including legal Svengali and erstwhile boyfriend Howard K. Stern) she challenged the estate in a Texas probate court.

Her claim: J. Howard Marshall, unbeknownst to anyone else, told her that he'd leave her a sizeable portion of his estate.

After a probate trial lasting nearly six months, complete with numerous witness testimonies, and extensive documentary evidence from Marshall's memos and hand- written notes, the jury ultimately ruled against her. Then Smith's legal team decided to try to subvert the legal system. Rather than accept the judgment of the probate court, they planned a way to get a second bite at the apple.

While the Texas probate proceeding was ongoing, they leaped to a Federal Bankruptcy Court in California and were able to convince a judge to let them, in essence, re-litigate the probate case in bankruptcy court. This time they were able to prevent the witnesses and other documentary evidence from being introduced, and were able to get their biggest win a staggering $447 million jackpot an award which essentially nullified the decision of the probate court in Texas.

The path of the case has been tumultuous since then. The first appeal to the Federal District Court in California reduced the award by nearly three-quarters. …