The Supreme Court ruled Monday that one-time stripper and Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith could pursue part of her late husband’s oil fortune.
Justices gave new legal life to Smith’s bid to collect millions of dollars from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II. Her late husband’s estate has been estimated at as much as $1.6 billion.
Smith has been embroiled in a long running cross-country court fight with Marshall’s youngest son, E. Pierce Marshall. The court’s decision, which was unanimous, means that it will not end anytime soon.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said Smith should have a fresh chance to pursue claims in federal court.
Smith’s case had brought unusual drama to the normally sedate high court.
Dressed in all black, she wept in the courtroom in late February as justices discussed Marshall and whether he had intended to provide for his young wife in death. When Smith arrived at the court, several photographers were knocked to the ground in a scuffle to photograph her.
She was a 26-year-old topless dancer when she married Marshall, then 89, in 1994. He died the following year, setting off an intense family fight.
Case over which court
At issue in the legal battle was competing court jurisdiction. A Texas court held a five-month trial before deciding that Smith was entitled to nothing from Marshall’s estate. Smith brought a separate claim in federal court in California.
Justices said Monday that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong in ruling that federal courts could not handle Smith’s case.
Smith, the spokeswoman for a diet products company, had been awarded $474 million by a federal bankruptcy judge. That was later reduced by a federal district judge and then thrown out altogether by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit. The case now goes back to California.
“I will continue to fight to uphold my father’s estate plan and clear my name,” Pierce Marshall said Monday.
Ginsburg noted that there are several pending issues that could still keep Smith from collecting any money.
Battle over half of estate
So far, Smith has received nothing from Marshall’s estate, although before his death Marshall showered Smith with $6.6 million in gifts that included two homes, expensive jewelry and clothes. She contends that he also promised her half his estate.
Ginsburg’s opinion included only a hint of the nastiness of the family feud. She said there were accusations that Pierce Marshall “engaged in forgery, fraud, and overreaching to gain control of his father’s assets” and, on the other side, that Smith had defamed her former stepson.
Pierce Marshall said in a statement that he would “continue to fight to clear my name in California federal court. That is a promise that (Smith) and her lawyers can take to the bank.”
The case is Marshall v. Marshall, 04-1544.