Published September 27, 2005
WASHINGTON – Former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith (search) is going to the Supreme Court. Justices said Tuesday they would consider Smith's appeal over the fortune of her 90-year-old late husband.
The stripper-turned-reality television star stands to win as much as $474 million that a bankruptcy judge initially said she was entitled to.
She has not gotten any money from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II (search), an oil tycoon who married her in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. Marshall, one of Texas' wealthiest men, died in 1995.
At issue for the court is a relatively mundane technical issue: when may federal courts hear claims that are also involved in state probate proceedings. But the facts of the case are eye-catching.
The 1993 Playmate of the Year and self-described "blonde bombshell" claims her husband promised her millions but that his scheming son cut her out of the estate.
Her decade-long legal fight with E. Pierce Marshall (search) has been marked by highs and lows.
The initial $474 million award was reduced to about $89 million, then thrown out altogether by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The appeals court said that a Texas probate court's decision that the oilman's son was his sole heir should stand.
The appeals court decision, that federal courts in California never had jurisdiction, erased a lower court finding that she was entitled to compensatory and punitive damages because Marshall's son tried to keep her from receiving money from his father's estate.
The Supreme Court filings included only a hint of the nastiness and sleaze from the family fight. The dispute has involved a "a bizarre set of events," justices were told in a filing by G. Eric Brunstad Jr., a Yale Law School professor who represents Marshall's son.
Smith, whose real name is Vickie Lynn Marshall, had received more than $6 million in gifts from her late husband, but was not included in his will, justices were told.
Brunstad said that Smith began her legal fight for her husband's money even before his death.
Smith's attorney, Kent Richland, told justices that Marshall's son "devotes nearly half his brief to manipulating the record to cast (Vickie) in a bad light." Richland said that J. Howard Marshall intended to provide for his wife throughout her life.
"His efforts failed, however, because — as both lower courts found — Pierce suppressed or destroyed the trust instrument and stripped Howard of all his assets before his death," Richland wrote.
The case is Vickie Lynn Marshall v. E. Pierce Marshall, 04-1544.