Celebrity v. credibility: opposing views of Anna Nicole Smith’s estate looting quest

Based on the headline of this post, we unapologetically admit having an obvious point of view.  It comes from significant research.  We anticipate numerous upcoming opportunities to reiterate our stance as the arrest of Howard K. Stern is likely to prompt renewed conversations about Marshall v. Marshall, the nearly 15 year effort initiated by Anna Nicole Smith and now posthumously continued by a Stern-led legal team to extract money from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II, Smith’s late husband to whom she was only married for 14 months.

Remember that the case is based on nothing more than Smith’s unsubstantiated claim that Marshall verbally promised her half his estate.  She offered no evidence while Marshall’s estate plans clearly excluded her in lieu of generosity he believed shown during their relationship.

Over the years, portrayals by the entertainment media have routinely seemed sympathetic to Smith’s pursuit while respected legal commentators more often viewed the case as frivolous, unfounded and dangerous in that – if ruled as credible – it could usurp the inheritance rights of countless Americans by negating the authority of probate documents.

We’ve come across two recent posts which well illustrate the ongoing diverse treatments of this legal action.  While we generally enjoy James Hirsen’s Newsmax columns, his recent Left Coast Report characterization of Marshall v. Marshall seemed out of left field as it made the case sound undeservedly credible in contrast to descriptions by non-entertainment media accounts.

The Anna Nicole Money Trail
The Left Coast Report: A Political Look at Hollywood
James Hirsen
March 17, 2009
Back in 2002, Anna Nicole Smith celebrated a victory in court against the son of her late husband.

Smith won a judgment of $88 million against E. Pierce Marshall, son of the late oil tycoon, J. Howard Marshall II, for acts in which the younger Marshall had illegally interfered with Smith’s inheritance rights.

Two different federal judges found that E. Pierce’s behavior had included forging documents and giving false statements to his father, and therefore $44 million in damages were awarded along with an additional $44 million in punitive damages.

E. Pierce asserted that the California federal courts did not have jurisdiction to decide the matter because a Texas probate court had already adjudicated essentially the same claims between the parties.

In 2006 that argument went up to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in Smith’s favor and upheld the $88 million award.

But both E. Pierce and Anna Nicole passed away, and the courts ordered a “stay” on the money, freezing it until the claims could be untangled.

Ironically, on March 9, 2009, Howard K. Stern went to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Smith Estate to lift the stay and unfreeze the assets.

Shortly thereafter on Friday the 13th, California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown held a press conference to announce that criminal charges were being brought against Stern and two doctors relating to Smith’s drug use. (The Supreme Court, incidentally, denied Stern’s request to unfreeze the $88 million.)

The criminal complaint charged Stern, Dr. Sandeep Kapoor and Dr. Khristine Eroshevich with eight felonies including conspiring to furnish controlled substances, unlawfully prescribing a controlled substance and obtaining fraudulent prescriptions.

The doctors are accused of giving Smith excessive amounts of prescription drugs when they knew she was already addicted to substances.

“She was obviously addicted,” Brown said. “These doctors had a medical obligation to prescribe medicine in a professional way. Evidence will show this did not happen.”

Smith’s autopsy report stated she died due to an accidental overdose from a combination of drugs. The list of drugs allegedly furnished by the doctors to Stern included Ambien, Dilaudid, methadone and Xanax.

The story that may emerge over the course of a trial is one in which a wealthy woman was encouraged to remain under the influence of drugs so that her finances could be controlled.

We may just see the infamous clown video, taped by Stern and starring a semi-coherent Smith, end up in the courtroom.

The California court proceedings were not similar in length, evidence or testimony to the Texas probate trial in which the jury found Smith’s claim unbelievable on all counts and ruled in favor of J. Howard Marshall’s documented estate plan.

Here’s a case update from The Heritage Foundation.  When discussed in light of key details, the original claim and history of this case become increasingly ridiculous and appear helped along the way more from Smith’s celebrity status and notoriety than any legal substance.

A Model Case Run Amok
Robert Alt/The Foundry
March 18, 2009
The Heritage Foundation
The late Anna Nicole Smith is back in the news. Smith died from a drug overdose in 2007, but her lawsuit against the estate of her former husband, J. Howard Marshall, lives on.  In the latest legal maneuver, the executor of her estate, Howard K. Stern—who is currently facing legal troubles of his own after being charged with conspiring to prescribe and administer drugs to the late model in violation of California law—asked Justice Kennedy to lift a stay issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in order to allow the estate to collect on a judgment issued by a California federal court against Marshall’s estate. Kennedy rejected the request, which comes as little surprise, given the merits of the case, and the lack of merits of the petition.

The whole tawdry tale is one of litigation run amok, which I have previously discussed here, and the ever insightful Professor Rotunda discussed more recently here. Recapping the case briefly, in an attempt to gain more than the millions in cash and gifts that she had received during his life, Anna Nicole challenged her billionaire husband’s estate plan, claiming that he had made a verbal promise of half of his fortune. The jury in Texas didn’t buy this story, so she shopped for a more receptive court in California, and she found one in a federal bankruptcy court. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the millions awarded by the court based upon a federal jurisdictional rule, but the Supreme Court in 2007 reversed, saying that the federal court could consider the merits of the case.

Contrary to Stern’s failed petition, which suggests that he is now entitled to the judgment, his case looks grim. For when the Ninth Circuit looks at the merits, they will be obliged to apply Texas law and to respect the final decision of the Texas probate court. That court was crystal clear:

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED by the Court that J. HOWARD MARSHALL II did not intend to give and did not give to VICKIE LYNN MARSHALL, A/K/A ANNA NICOLE SMITH, a gift or bequest from the Estate of J. HOWARD MARSHALL II or from the J. Howard Marshall, II, Living Trust either prior to or upon his death.

And yet, despite this clear finding, finality is not had. All the original players in the sad drama are now dead, but the litigation continues. The law treats probate court judgments as determinative of these questions for a reason: to avoid the protracted litigation and gamesmanship that have been the hallmark of this case.

Marshall v. Marshall is the tale of a woman who benefited from a 14-month marriage and the resources of her husband and then, upon his death, responded to his generosity by legally assaulting his family with false claims of entitlement.  As J. Howard Marshall II had fulfilled his known intention of gifting money and other property to Smith during his lifetime, the Marshall family was understandably unwilling to bestow vast assets on a woman who had no part in earning the disputed resources nor seemingly demonstrated appreciation for the prior benevolence of her husband.

American assets are under siege as estate documents (wills, trusts, guardianships) are increasingly ignored or bastardized so as to divert assets from intended recipients/beneficiaries in lieu of modern day grave robbers or other property poachers.  Don’t be fooled by the entertainment media.  For those who sympathize with “poor Anna” up against “the evil Pierce Marshall,” the son and legitimate heir of J. Howard Marshall II who fought to respect his father’s wishes, understand that if Smith’s case is upheld, a precedent will be set that the final distribution of anyone’s property can be contested by unconfirmable and unsubstantiated claims.  It’s looking unlikely, but then again, what rational person would have dreamed this case would endure for nearly 15 years!

Marshall v. Marshall, now or in the past, is not an entertainment news story to be taken lightly.  This is a serious case that should horrify any American who values property rights and believes a person should be able to determine the ultimate distribution of their assets.

  • admin

    The drug problem is ripe for review, as it is likely not unusual today; my own mother went from none to about 12 in less than 2 years. Who would not get nervous about so many together in one body? It’s bound to have a toxic effect.

    Far too many elderly are on far too many drugs -perhaps without proper pharmaceutical supervision. The pharmacies need a better method of determining whether adverse reactions might be the outcome – in addition to oversight by physicians. If the industry isn’t working together with Dr’s to make elders safer, they must be working together to make it unsafe for them. Can’t be both.


  • Michael

    Anna Nicole AKA Vickie Hogan was vulgar, selfish gold-digger who abused alcohol and drugs since she was a teenager.
    I feel sorry for late J.H. Marshall’s family.I hope Marshall family will prevail.The justice is on their side.

  • noodlemonkey

    Of course people should ultimately be able to determine how his or her assets are distributed. It’s appalling that Marshall’s wishes were not considered. I hope that justice is done soon by the 9th Circuit Court and they defer to the TX court’s original decision.