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The Blotter

The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

June 24, 2009 at 11:45 AM

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The Anna Nicole Smith circus is coming to town

Posted by John de Leon



TIMES FILE PHOTO

Anna Nicole Smith

From Times staff reporter Ian Ith:

There won't be any big tops or trapezes, but the circus that is the saga of Anna Nicole Smith is arriving in Seattle Thursday for a one-day-only performance.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is convening at the old federal courthouse downtown to hear the case of Marshall v. Marshall, the never-ending battle over the estate of Anna Nicole's dead husband, the Texas billionaire J. Howard Marshall. The federal appeals court just happens to be in Seattle on a regularly scheduled tour when it will hear the case.

In case you've been on a desert island for the past couple of decades, here's the deal: Anna Nicole, a former Playboy centerfold, Marilyn Monroe-wannabe and darling of the Paparazzi, married Marshall, an 89-year-old oil tycoon, in 1994. (Her legal name was Vickie Lynn Marshall). But when he died 13 months later, a Texas court ruled that his will didn't include Anna Nicole and awarded all his riches to his son, Pierce.

So Anna Nicole's lawyers went to a bankruptcy court in California, which ruled that Pierce Marshall owed poor Anna Nicole $450 million. A federal district court then reduced that to $88 million. Then the 9th Circuit invalidated that, saying federal courts don't have jurisdiction over state probate matters.

So Anna Nicole's people took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and after a massive mediafest on its hallowed steps, it ruled in 2006 that the federal court can indeed get involved. So now the 9th Circuit has to take up the actual issues of the money.

To add to the confusion, of course, is the fact that Anna Nicole died of a drug overdose in 2007, and Pierce Marshall died in 2006. So that leaves Anna Nicole's sole heir, 2-year-old daughter Dannielynn, fighting with Pierce's heirs.

Horace Cooper, a law professor and professional media commentator from Virginia who shows up on TV whenever he can to talk about this case, says he expects that Anna Nicole's survivors, boyfriend husband Howard K. Stern (not the shock jock) and Dannielynn's father, Larry Birkhead, may actually show up in Seattle for the hearing.

And that will mean a gaggle of Paparazzi and tabloid-TV cams parked outside the Nakamura Courthouse at 1010 Fifth Ave. before the hearing starts at 9:30 a.m.

"They just can't let this go," Cooper told me this morning.

Neither can he. He's on his way to Seattle to watch the court proceedings too. He believes the case would have -- and should have -- died a long time ago but for Anna Nicole's celebrity status. "The celebrity influence in American society is pervasive and it's remarkable," he said. He also worries that there are bigger issues involved, such as the sanctity and legal validity of people's wills and estates.

The hearing is open to the public. But unless you're a probate-law junky or an insomniac looking for relief, it probably won't be very titillating. The court will be taking oral arguments from lawyers about things like "tortuous interference," "core proceedings" and "claim and issue preclusion."

A decision won't come for quite some time.

But when it does, we're sure you'll hear all about it.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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