Texas is home to the 15-year-old pursuit of Anna Nicole Smith (and now her estate) to extract assets from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II. The case, known today as Stern v. Marshall, started in a Houston probate court as an effort by Smith to use an unsubstantiated oral claim as grounds for entitlement to the multi-million dollar estate of Marshall, her late husband to whom she had been married for 14 months. Due to years of legal gamesmanship, the case now has implications that could impact all Americans on a number of fronts. It also is scheduled back before the U.S. Supreme Court for new oral arguments on Jan. 18.
Besides having important inheritance rights implications with regard to the durability of properly-prepared estate plans, the case could also impact the power of state courts in state-law cases if its venue-shopping-to-unauthorized-jurisdictions component is allowed to stand. Similarly, civil rights advocates are concerned this case could open an expansion of specialty courts (like the bankruptcy court in this case) and shift cases into courts lacking legal expertise or appropriate evidentiary procedure therefore violating minority litigants’ rights to due process.
As EstateofDenial.com previously discussed, the practical implications of this return to the Supreme Court are unknown. While the merits of the basic case will not be an issue, the authority of the bankruptcy court will be a focus. One school of thought indicates the court could use this case to set precedent regarding forum shopping, especially as a tactic with regard to estate claims.
During the past weeks, Anna Nicole Smith was a WikiLeaks hot topic as newly released documents suggest the train wreck nature of the entertainer’s life extended to her time in The Bahamas.
Just call her Hurricane Anna.
WikiLeaks is blowing the whistle on Anna Nicole Smith in several newly released U.S. diplomatic cables, revealing the top-heavy b-list star cut the careers of several Bahaman officials short with a string of scandals and may even have had a hand in the government’s collapse.
“Not since Category 4 Hurricane Betsy made landfall in 1965 has one woman done as much damage in Nassau,” wrote Deputy Chief of Mission D. Brent Hardt in a 2006 document.
Fortunately, as the Marshall family hopes to see the final wishes (and well-documented estate plan) of J. Howard Marshall II upheld, other groups are weighing in with regard to the broader legal implications this case could create.
From both a states’ rights and inheritance rights perspective, the Washington Legal Foundation recently filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to “give full faith and credit to the judgments of state courts by upholding a Texas probate court judgment that determined the appropriate disposition of the assets of a wealthy Texan who died in 1995.”
The National Black Chamber of Commerce has additionally filed a brief citing civil rights concerns and how a drastic expansion of specialty courts (i.e., bankruptcy courts) could “infringe on the rights of individuals to a fair and fully heard case.” The brief, filed on the Chamber’s behalf by Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, and David Rivkin, attorney who served in the administrations of both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, illustrates the politically diverse interest Stern v. Marshall is generating.
“This is a truly unique case that appeals to even the extreme opposite ends of the political spectrum. The Justices have a rare opportunity to set binding legal precedent on the authority of state and federal courts versus specialty courts appeasing those on both the Right and the Left,” Lanny Davis said.
The roots of this case should never be forgotten even as Stern v. Marshall has become far more than an estate dispute. It’s legal implications will, for better or worse, be far reaching. It will also endure as an epic pop culture tale. And as evidence that the “train wreck” aspect never subsides, in addition to this month’s Supreme Court proceeding, all indications are that Howard K. Stern, Smith’s estate executor and chief Stern v. Marshall litigant, is also scheduled for sentencing Jan. 6 on his two conspiracy convictions in the Anna Nicole Smith drug addition case.
Hurricane Anna seems to have returned for another season. Taking cover is advised.