- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

From combined dispatches

Former Playmate of the Year Anna Nicole Smith got her Supreme Court hearing yesterday when her attorney argued that she should collect millions of dollars she says her late Texas oil-tycoon husband had promised her.

Mrs. Smith, who also has hosted her own reality-TV show, did not talk to the crush of reporters, photographers and camera crews when she entered and left the Supreme Court building.

The court waded into an 11-year-old family feud over the estate of J. Howard Marshall II, who died at 90 after a brief marriage to Mrs. Smith.

Mr. Marshall’s youngest son, E. Pierce Marshall, says that he is the sole heir and that Mrs. Smith’s legal fight is dead, because she lost in a Texas probate court.

But a federal bankruptcy judge in California ruled in favor of Mrs. Smith and awarded her $474 million because of her claims that the son had interfered with the inheritance she was supposed to receive.

A federal judge reduced the award to $88 million, but a U.S. appeals court ruled that Mrs. Smith was entitled to nothing because federal courts lack jurisdiction in probate disputes.

Justice David H. Souter during the arguments summarized Mrs. Smith’s claim as, “Just give me the money I would have had.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said Mrs. Smith’s claim was that her husband intended to give her this gift and that three pages of his living-trust document had been altered after his death.

“It’s quite a story,” the justice said.

Kent Richland of Los Angeles, Mrs. Smith’s attorney, was supported by U.S. Justice Department lawyer Deanna Maynard, who argued that the appeals court ruling in the case swept too broadly.

G. Eric Brunstad, arguing on behalf of the son, said Mrs. Smith’s federal claims amounted to an “end run” around the Texas probate proceeding.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called it an “extraordinary thing” for him to say that Mrs. Smith could not bring a related claim in federal court. “That’s just not the way our system works,” she said.

Justice Antonin Scalia said of Mrs. Smith’s claim, “That to me is something quite different than probating the will.”

And Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. compared Mrs. Smith’s claims with a 1946 Supreme Court ruling that upheld federal court jurisdiction over a lawsuit to determine rights to property at issue in a probate proceeding.

Of the nine Supreme Court members, Justice Clarence Thomas, who normally is silent during arguments, and new Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not ask any questions.

After the arguments, E. Pierce Marshall said, “A decision in our favor by the Supreme Court will go a long way toward finally putting an end to this frivolous lawsuit with claims that are totally fabricated.”

A ruling is expected by the end of June.

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