- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006


The Supreme Court revived former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith’s pursuit of her late husband’s oil fortune, ruling yesterday that the one-time stripper deserves another day in court.

Miss Smith won the votes of all nine justices in her feud over the estate of J. Howard Marshall II, the colorful Texas tycoon who died in 1995 at 90.

The case has had twists and turns. Miss Smith won a $474 million judgment, which was cut to about $89 million and eventually reduced to nothing.

Although yesterday’s ruling reinstates her claim, there is no guarantee she will collect any money.

Justices said only that federal courts in California could deal with her case despite a Texas state court ruling that Mr. Marshall’s youngest son was the sole heir to the estate.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the opinion, gave some of the history of the unlikely romance between Mr. Marshall and Miss Smith, whose real name is Vickie Lynn. They married in 1994, when she was 26 and he was 89, after meeting at a Houston strip club. Mr. Marshall, who had a penchant for strippers, died the next year.

“Although he lavished gifts and significant sums of money on Vickie during their courtship and marriage, J. Howard did not include anything for Vickie in his will,” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

She said there were accusations that E. Pierce Marshall “engaged in forgery, fraud, and overreaching to gain control of his father’s assets” and, on the other side, that Miss Smith had defamed her former stepson.

“I will continue to fight to clear my name in California federal court. That is a promise that Vickie and her lawyers can take to the bank,” Pierce Marshall said in a statement after the decision.

The ruling gives federal courts more authority to resolve disputes that arise out of estates, although state courts still have sole responsibility to probate a will. The Bush administration had supported that outcome.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a separate opinion to say that he would have given federal courts more flexibility to deal with such contests. He said Miss Smith’s appeal was “an easy case.”

The case now goes back to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, where Pierce Marshall’s lawyers will try to get it thrown out on other grounds.

“We are confident that the 9th Circuit will have no problem in ruling in our favor on the issues that remain,” said Kent Richland, one of the model’s lawyers.

Justice Ginsburg’s opinion included only a hint of the nastiness of family fight that began even before Mr. Marshall died of heart failure.

“This voyeuristic aspect of this case that the rest of the world likes is not something the court is interested in,” said Douglas Baird, a law professor at the University of Chicago.



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