It’s now, officially, the Estate Fight That Refuses To Die! The quest for money started by Anna Nicole Smith — the former Playboy Playmate, stripper, TV reality star, and the true love of 89-year old Texas oil tycoon, J. Howard Marshall — is not over. Despite almost 18 years of litigation, two trips to the United States Supreme Court, and untold millions of dollars spent on legal fees, the Anna Nicole Smith case lives on.
Anna Nicole Smith (a/k/a Vickie Lynn Marshall) sued after her elderly husband died, following their 14-month marriage. She was not happy being left out of his massive ($1.6 billion) estate. She blamed one of his sons, Pierce Marshall, who inherited everything.
The probate case started in Louisiana and then moved to Texas. Smith sued there, but was forced to file bankruptcy in California. When she did, Pierce sued her, filing a claim in bankruptcy court. He claimed Smith defamed him by telling the media he committed fraud in managing his father’s estate. Smith counter-sued, alleging he really did commit fraud. She also requested millions of dollars based on what, she claimed, J. Howard would have given her if Pierce had not wrongly interfered and stopped it.
In total, Anna Nicole Smith wanted one-half of J. Howard Marshall’s fortune. Sounds outrageous? Not to the California bankruptcy judge, who agreed with Smith and awarded her $475 million. That was appealed to California district court, where a different judge held a new trial and also agreed with Smith. This time, she only won $88 million — a lot less, sure, but it was certainly better than what a stripper could have earned.
That was back in 2002. Since then, Pierce Marshall appealed, had it overturned on appeal, only to have the United States Supreme Court intercede and send it back to the court of appeals for a second look. Pierce then died, followed by Anna Nicole Smith’s death in 2007, so their respective estates picked up the battle from there.
After a brief pause in the action, the court of appeals again threw out the Anna Nicole Smith case, only to have the Supreme Court step in a second time. This time, however, the Supreme Court sided against Smith and her estate lost the case, in 2011. You can read Trial & Heirs’ coverage of that decision, here. At the time, we (wrongly, it now turns out) proclaimed that the case was finally over.
But it’s not over! It won’t ever be over! The California District Court heard new claims involving the case and again ruled for team Anna Nicole Smith. The judge felt that the conduct of team Pierce Marshall and his attorney during the early rounds of litigation was so improper, unethical, and abusive, that it granted sanctions against Pierce’s estate and in favor of Smith’s estate — just a couple weeks ago.
The judge ruled that Pierce Marshall and his attorney destroyed documents, forged and back-dated others, refused to turn over information they were ordered by the court to provide, lied under oath, and committed a long-list of atrocities, all designed to cover their scheme of preventing Anna Nicole Smith from receiving a dime of J. Howard’s estate. You can read the court decision here.
The California court has yet to decide how much it will award in sanctions — saying it will depend on how much harm Smith’s attorneys can prove the improper conduct caused Smith and her estate. Given how extensive this litigation has been, the new award will likely be in the range of tens of millions of dollars. So, yes, we can expect more appeals to follow.
If they win the appeals, Anna Nicole Smith’s Estate will hope to recover some money. The problem is that, even if they win, the outstanding legal bills may be so much that Smith’s 6-year-old daughter, Dannielynn Marshall, may not see a cent.
Wow, what a saga! This is what can happen when an 89-year old billionaire falls head-over-heels in love with a woman lovingly referred to, by the attorney who represented both J. Howard and Pierce Marshall, as “Miss Cleavage.”
By Danielle and Andrew Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.