Anna Nicole Victorious at the Supreme Court

Anna Nicole Victorious at the Supreme Court

by Monica Sanders, December 2009

Legal battles, billions of dollars, and one very buxom blonde - while this might sound like an episode of Dallas, it actually describes the real life drama happening within the Marshall family. Like every famous family feud, this one started with a fight over love and money. For now, however, it looks like Vickie Lynn Marshall, a.k.a. Anna Nicole Smith, has won the latest court battle in the war with her stepson, E. Pierce Marshall.

Love, Texas Style

The Marshalls' feud started as a love story of sorts. Anna Nicole was a 26-year old exotic dancer when she met J. Howard Marshall in 1991. He was an 86-year old oil magnate who apparently enjoyed gentlemen's clubs. In time, J. Howard began to court and eventually marry Anna Nicole.

His family, particularly son E. Pierce, was not thrilled about the marriage. Of course, the main concern was Anna Nicole's sincerity. However, during the course of the marriage, Anna Nicole independently advanced her career, posed for Playboy and ultimately became a Guess Jeans model. Unfortunately, after four short years of marriage, J. Howard died in 1995. It was then that the fighting between Anna Nicole and E. Pierce began.

Anna Nicole claims that when she married J. Howard, he agreed to give her "half of everything" he had. In his will, J. Howard named his son E. Pierce as the beneficiary of the estate with no mention that Anna Nicole would get half of anything. Anna Nicole claims her stepson altered documents to cheat her out of her inheritance, launching a media war between the two.

From Courting to the Courtroom

The first court battles ensued in 1996, when Anna Nicole filed for bankruptcy in a California federal court. E. Pierce intervened, saying her assets could not be divided up without giving some to him as compensation for "allegedly libelous accusations" of cheating on the estate. Oddly, this bankruptcy was not directly related to the disagreement about the late Marshall's will. Yet E. Pierce's interference opened the door for Anna Nicole to file a counterclaim of "tortuous interference" with her claim against J. Howard's estate.

In plain English, E. Pierce wanted to make Anna Nicole pay for accusing him of cheating and she wanted to sue him for blocking her from half of her late husband's estate. The courtroom battle has been waging ever since in both Texas and California.

In Texas, a probate court agreed with E. Pierce, holding that J. Howard's written will did not provide for Anna Nicole's inheritance. On the flip side, the California courts seem to have sided with Anna Nicole. In fact, the federal bankruptcy judge awarded her $474 million in damages. Her award was later reduced to just over $88 million. Then, in 2004, Pierce won his appeal at the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which prompted Smith's appeal to the Supreme Court.

Ms. Smith's Supreme Win

Eleven years later, Anna Nicole's case made it to the Supreme Court, not because the justices like a good story, but because her case gave them the opportunity to sort out a federal jurisdiction issue. E. Pierce Marshall's lawyers argued that the Texas probate court's decision was final; the federal court had no jurisdiction and thus no right to get involved in the probate case. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that federal courts can retain jurisdiction over some probate cases. The ruling denies states the right to shut federal courts out of probate disputes, which will allow families and potential heirs to seek relief from will and probate issues in the federal courts.

For Anna Nicole, this ruling means she will head back to federal court in California where she will be able to pursue a fresh claim to half of J. Howard Marshall's estate, with an estimated worth more than a billion dollars. She may not be seeing any of that money any time soon. Her stepson says he is determined to fight to clear his name. He also says he is determined to fight Anna Nicole's attempt to claim his father's money every step of the way.

Like many of the other famous family feuds, Ms. Smith and Mr. Marshall are in it for the long haul. With court battles looming and no clear end in sight, this feud just might last for decades.