Menu

ARCHIVE

Anna Nicole Smith Snarky 'Judge Larry': Aspiring TV Star or Regular Guy Running No-Jury Trial?

Judge Larry SeidlinAP

The Florida judge in the Anna Nicole Smith body custody hearing either is trying out for his own "Judge Judy"-style TV show, or acting completely normal — depending on who you believe.

Citing unidentified sources, celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com published a report Tuesday — while the proceedings over who should get Smith's body and where she should be buried were under way — that Broward County Circuit Court Judge Larry Seidlin is angling for his own television program.

And, it certainly seemed that way many times during the hearing. Seidlin frequently threw out comedic one-liners; sent the courtroom into bursts of laughter by calling lawyers nicknames like "Texas" and "California"; badgered attorneys with repeated interruptions about bad grammar and questionable strategies; interrogated witnesses himself; and even made broad, bold declarations like "I am the trier of fact" and "We are here on a search for the truth."

At one point early in the day, "Judge Larry" even invoked the War on Terror with a bizarre request that the courtroom stop and pay homage to American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, FOX News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano doesn't buy that Seidlin has his eye on becoming the next TV personality judge for now, and said his behavior in a courtroom without a jury is perfectly normal.

"I have zero evidence" that Seidlin is trying to "advance his career rather than advance his case," Napolitano told FOXNews.com.

"All we know is some gossip Web site claims he wants his own television show. Who the heck knows if it's true? … I have no reason to believe it from his demeanor alone. His demeanor is no more histrionic than the demeanor of many other judges who wouldn't give a second thought to television."

If the Smith case is a "circus" or a "zoo," as the media has described, then he has acted as ringmaster or zookeeper. And Seidlin never let the courtroom forget that he was in charge.

"Somebody's got to bite the bullet, and it's got to be me," Seidlin told attorneys and witnesses at one stage. "I'm the trier of fact."

Those witnesses included Smith's longtime boyfriend and companion Howard K. Stern, who was on the stand for most of Tuesday; her estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, who began testifying shortly before court was adjourned and is battling Stern for rights to her daughter's body; and Smith's ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead, who was present but hasn't yet taken the stand.

Birkhead and Stern are locked in a fight over who fathered Smith's 5-month-old daughter Dannielynn, with each claiming he is the baby's dad. Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband also threw his hat into the paternity dispute ring, saying he had a decade-long affair with the former Playboy Playmate and might be the little girl's father.

Seidlin repeatedly reminded those in attendance in his courtroom that what he wanted out of all this was the well-being of Dannielynn.

But frequently, the sometimes joking, frequently combative judge seemed to want to make an impression more than anything else. Some talking heads swore he was playing to the cameras.

Not only did Seidlin, a former Bronx, N.Y., taxi cab driver, inexplicably and incongruously make a comment about honoring the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he also displayed other oddities.

In one strange moment, the judge corrected the grammar of Arthur's attorney, Stephen Tunstall, and then gave him a tongue-lashing.

"You were getting animated for no reason, my friend," the judge told Tunstall after the lawyer rose and gave his two cents. "You were getting stressed for no reason. Twice now we were on a different signal. I'm going to get you some juice " The room erupted in laughter.

Later, when Smith's lawyer Ron Rale complained that the entire legal quagmire following the ex-reality TV star's sudden Feb. 8 death has been a circus, Seidlin assured him the circus would stop.

Seidlin repeatedly called another of Arthur's Texas lawyers "Texas" during the session, at times getting angry with him for his many objections to Stern's testimony and his lawyers' line of questioning.

"I heard you, Texas. Let's move on. You're getting hungry for lunch. We're moving ahead," an exasperated Seidlin said at one point.

And later: "My friend in Texas — you've got to sit down for a long while now. Shoot leather now."

During other testimony, he called one of Stern's lawyers "Miss California."

But Napolitano said needling the attorneys and acting "folksy" wasn't out of the ordinary in a non-jury hearing like this one.

"Without a jury there, you can call people by nicknames," he told FOXNews.com. "Judges tend to get rather informal. They'll say, 'I've already made up my mind on this. Don't waste my time.'"

Napolitano said it was natural that the layperson would be shocked by Seidlin's words and actions, because judges act differently in front of juries -- and in fictional dramas on TV and in the movies.

But appellate courts and attorneys are used to bawdy bench behavior like Seidlin's, according to Napolitano.

"People are saying, 'My God, this guy is a clown,'" he said. "It's a circus or a zoo in there. And I'm saying, 'No, it's not. That's who he is. He's very down-to-earth … There's no right or wrong here … It's a little bit shocking, but when there is no jury, judges frequently let down their guard. We're not seeing anything unethical."

Some observers thought Seidlin was acting callous, but Napolitano again disagreed.

"I don't find him to be insensitive," he said. "He is the way judges are in the courtroom. He has said unusual things, but not so unusual that they would make me question his thinking or believability."

What would bother him, though, is if the TMZ reports turn out to be true. The site claims that "the endlessly entertaining Florida judge … has had a TV show on the brain for months. Sources say Judge Seidlin has even made a demo tape of cases that were recorded in his courtroom."

"The only thing that's really unusual and troubles me is this bit about wanting a television show," Napolitano said. "He can't allow his own personal ambition to interfere with what he's ruling. That said, I don't know that's what he's doing."

Napolitano — who is a frequent FOX News Channel guest and has his own show on the cable news network — said he didn't become a TV personality himself until after he left the bench, and he worked as a judge in an era when cameras weren't allowed in courtrooms.

As for whether he himself would act like Seidlin if he were presiding over the Smith case, Napolitano speculated that he just might pull a Judge Larry, with one exception.

"Yes, but I don't know that I would do it on television, as it brings the court into disrepute," he said. "I might not have allowed the cameras in there if I were that folksy … We didn't have cameras in the courtroom in those days. There was no way to audition for television in your day job."

Seidlin, for his part, got angry at times and funny at times, but through it all, he mostly kept his cool — even as he minced witnesses' names, skewered colloquial expressions and injected testimony with his unconventional remarks.

"I'm going to have to make head or tail out of all of this," Seidlin acknowledged in the thick of the hearing.

He then turned to one of Arthur's attorneys who was objecting to some evidence introduced by Stern's lawyers in court.

"We all have handicaps," Seidlin responded philosophically, sounding like he was speaking figuratively even as he was making literal reference to the case. "We are all on the same playing field."