The five-member conservative wing of the court ruled against Smith’s estate, headed by Larry Birkhead, who fathered a daughter with the model, and attorney Howard K. Stern.
In writing the decision, Chief Justice John Roberts said that “although the bankruptcy court had the statutory authority to enter judgment on Vickie’s counterclaim, it lacked the constitutional authority to do so.”
The family of E. Pierce Marshall, the late son of J. Howard Marshall, cheered the decision.
“J. Howard’s wishes were always perfectly clear: He gave Anna Nicole Smith approximately $8 million in gifts during his lifetime, and those gifts were all that he intended to give her,” said Eric Brunstad, the Marshalls’ lawyer.
The saga goes like this:
- A wheelchair-bound Marshall met Smith (real name Vickie Lynn Smith) in the early 1990s at a Houston strip club, where she worked. He became instantly smitten with her began buying her homes, cars and horses. They wed in June 1994, against his family’s wishes. She famously left him in tears immediately after their “I Do’s” to fly off to a modeling job and they never lived together.
- Marshall died 13 months later, on August 4, 1995. His will left his estate to his son, with no mention of his third wife, who had in that short period of time become on internationally oggled Playboy and Guess model.
- Smith challenged the will, claiming Marshall promised her $300 million, but a Houston court decided he was mentally fit when he filed his updated will giving his wife nothing.
- The model moved to California and later filed for bankruptcy. A bankruptcy judge awarded her $475 million from Marshall’s estate, but that amount was reduced in 2002 to $89 million by a federal judge.
- Then, an appeals court in San Francisco threw that ruling out, saying a bankruptcy judge could not rule on that kind of case (probate).
The court’s liberal wing (Justice Stephen Breyer,Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) argued that bankruptcy courts do indeed play a role in these matters and that the decision could force a large number of cases in bankruptcy courts to have to be bumped into federal courts.
In his decision with the majority, Roberts bluntly acknowledged how confusing and ultimately, tragic, the case was.
This “suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that … no two … lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it.”
He also said that sadly, both Smith and E. Pierce Marshall “have died out of it.”
The AP: “The younger Marshall died in 2006 and Smith died of a drug overdose in 2007. Smith’s daughter, Dannielynn Birkhead, was named Smith’s heir in 2008. The girl’s father, Larry Birkhead, and attorney Howard K. Stern are in charge of the estate.
By: Popeater Staff