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Video: Judge stars in Smith legal show

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 2/22/2007 7:29:43 PM ET 2007-02-23T00:29:43

After hearing six days of testimony, sharing details about his personal life and occasionally weeping from the bench, the judge in the Anna Nicole Smith case came to a decision Thursday on who should take control of the late starlet's body.

Circuit Court Judge Larry Seidlin gave custody of the former Playboy centerfold's remains to the court-appointed guardian for her infant daughter, and lawyers for all sides later announced Smith would be buried in the Bahamas next to her dead son.

But in the end, Seidlin's bizarre behavior overshadowed the court case.

The flamboyant Seidlin, rumored to be coveting his own reality TV show, let the proceedings spin out of control. The judge interjected himself into testimony, talked about his daily routine and wardrobe, and chatted nostalgically about his roots in New York, where he was once a cab driver. He freely gave nicknames such as "Texas," "California" and "Mama" to the people involved in the trial.

The legal mess surrounding Smith, in life and in death, hasn't been simple, but Seidlin's judicial style took the case to a new level of absurdity, experts said.

"I mean, it's riveting television at times, but at times I'm sitting there grinding my teeth saying, 'Could this really be happening in a court of law?' " Miami defense attorney Roy Black said Thursday on TODAY.

The 39-year-old Smith died unexpectedly in the Bahamas on Feb. 8. She left behind daughter Dannielynn, a slew of men claiming to be the 5-month-old's father and a legal battle over hundreds of millions of dollars Smith claimed was hers from a deceased husband.

Seidlin, at times sobbing, weighed in Thursday, ruling that custody of Smith's body should go to Richard Milstein, the attorney who was appointed to represent Dannielynn's interests in court.

It was a compromise decision after six days of bickering and at times acrimonious testimony. Smith's estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, and Howard K. Stern, her boyfriend lawyer, were battling for control of Smith's remains. Arthur wanted her buried in her native Texas, while Stern wanted her laid to rest in the Bahamas near her deceased son, Daniel Smith.

At one point, Seidlin told the courtroom, "The wheels of justice aren't always round. Those wheels, sometimes they're a little bit square, and it's a bumpy ride like the Old West."

He added, "And I'm not always going to be on that ride with you."

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Seidlin also occasionally inserted details about his struggling marriage into the televised court case.

"My wife won't let me come home," he said Thursday.

No sense of urgency?
But with Smith's embalmed body beginning to decompose at a county morgue and the medical examiner calling him daily, Seidlin should have been focusing more on the legal questions, Black said. Video: Anna Nicole ruling analysis

"Ninety or 95 percent of this hearing is totally irrelevant. We are going into murder, money, drugs and lots of sex. What does that have to do with the issue? The issue is: Where did she want to be buried?" Black said before the ruling.

NBC Chief Legal Correspondent and MSNBC General Manager Dan Abrams compared the courtroom antics to a sitcom.

"I feel like it's an episode of 'Seinfeld.' Like they are going to decide over Newman and Kramer who gets Jerry's bike," Abrams said. "It's a hearing about nothing."

Abrams criticized the judge's decision to give custody over Smith's body to the lawyer appointed to baby Daniellyn.

Susan Filan, an MSNBC legal analyst, called the court ruling "insane."

NBC's TODAY show, the Associated Press and MSNBC.com staff writers contributed to this report.

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