- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

The bizarre case concerning the fate of Anna Nicole Smith’s body took another dramatic turn yesterday when Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin became emotional during the hearing’s closing moments.

“I’m a stranger in a strange land,” Judge Seidlin said before holding his head in his hands. “I wanted to get the [expletive deleted] out of here.”

When Judge Seidlin returned to announce that Mrs. Smith’s body would be given to attorney Richard Milstein, the court-appointed legal guardian of Mrs. Smith’s 5-month-old daughter, he began to weep on the bench.

“I hope you handle it with the respect and dignity Anna Nicole Smith would have wanted,” Judge Seidlin said.

Mr. Milstein quickly decided Mrs. Smith will be buried in the Bahamas, alongside her 20-year-old son Daniel, who died in September.

The proceedings were solely to determine the rightful ownership of Mrs. Smith’s remains. Mrs. Smith’s estranged mother, Vergie Arthur, wanted her daughter buried in Texas. Mrs. Smith’s boyfriend, lawyer Howard K. Stern, who is listed as Dannielynn’s father on the birth certificate, said Mrs. Smith had wanted to be buried in the Bahamas.

Mr. Stern had been hunched over a table with his hands folded as he awaited Judge Seidlin’s ruling. He wiped away tears after the decision. Mrs. Arthur covered her eyes.

The ruling came a full two weeks after Mrs. Smith died at a Florida hotel at age 39 of still-undetermined causes.

Judge Seidlin, 56, has received much attention and scrutiny for his colorful remarks during the two-week- long hearings.

“It’s become all about this judge,” Fox News anchor Shepard Smith told viewers as Judge Seidlin left the courtroom to weigh his decision. “I can’t stop watching this.”

Judge Seidlin has served 28 years on the Florida bench in relative obscurity before this trial brought him international attention. A number of observers have speculated that he is using the trial as an unofficial audition for his own “Judge Judy”-styled television program.

Judge Seidlin received perhaps the most scrutiny for his comments concerning the still unburied Mrs. Smith, when he told the courtroom her “body belongs to me now. … That baby is in a cold, cold storage room.”

South Florida lawyer Jack Thompson, who observed the proceedings told “Fox News:” “I’m embarrassed.”

Mr. Thompson described the courtroom drama as “a comedic opportunity,” while adding that Judge Seidlin’s decision “would not be of any weight” because it’s riddled with mistakes.

A 2004 Broward County Bar Poll found 22 percent of lawyers responding to the survey said Judge Seidlin was “not qualified,” positioning him near the bottom of the list of judges included in the poll.

However, not all of the attention on Judge Seidlin has been negative. His personal story of having driven a New York City cab at night to help pay for law school has endeared him to some courtroom observers. A number of colleagues have also spoken out on his behalf.

“There’s no circus here,” Judge Seidlin told members of the courtroom earlier this week. “I jogged four miles this morning; my head’s as clear as a bell.”

The judge began yesterday’s hearing with a long diatribe, saying Mrs. Smith’s relationships with her mother and ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead soured because of overuse of prescription drugs, and referred to Mr. Stern as “maybe an enabler.”

“We have Stern. Is he a bad guy or is he a fellow that has some form of a love for her? We don’t know,” Judge Seidlin said. “Whatever relationship he had with her, he would be called maybe an enabler.”

Mr. Birkhead, who also claims to be Dannielynn’s father and is seeking custody, testified earlier that he attempted to curb the starlet’s drug use by urging her to seek treatment.

Judge Seidlin has been criticized for allowing testimony peppered with details of Mrs. Smith’s sexual liaisons and the deals reportedly being pursued to profit from the deaths of Mrs. Smith and her son.

He tried to portray himself as being above the fray when asked to comment on Mrs. Smith’s tabloid history.

“You’re assuming I know stuff. I haven’t read anything about this,” said Judge Seidlin. “This is an area the other side of my family reads about.”

Still, Judge Seidlin, who is not running for re-election, acknowledged his emotional involvement in the case.

“We all cried for her,” he said in his closing remarks. “I wanted to look tough, mama.”

“I did a lot of talking here,” he added, acknowledging the attention he has received for his eccentric conduct. “The less you say in this business, the better. I’m not going to talk about this case again.”

Mrs. Smith married Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26, and she had been fighting his family over his estimated $500 million fortune since his death in 1995. A California judge is handling the paternity case.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide