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The Estate of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington (Again)

Anna Nicole Smith: her candle burned out long before her legend ever did. And the great beauty’s legend continues to grow, over three years after her untimely death in February 2007, as litigation involving her estate contributes to the development of a rich body of law regarding bankruptcy and probate law — in a tribunal no less distinguished than the Supreme Court of the United States.

Over at USA Today, Joan Biskupic has this report:

The Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear an appeal from the estate of Anna Nicole Smith, the late Playboy model and TV reality-show star, in the decades-old dispute over an inheritance from her tycoon husband.

The action, involving a sensational set of characters in an otherwise dry case at the intersection of probate and bankruptcy law, came on a day of varied court business that included acceptance of 14 new cases for the 2010-2011 term that officially begins Monday.

Sounds scintillating. Let’s get all up in Anna Nicole’s business, shall we?

This is not Anna Nicole’s first time at the SCOTUS rodeo. She previously appeared before the high court in February 2006, and set off a photographer feeding frenzy at One First Street, when the justices heard argument in Marshall v. Marshall, an earlier appeal in the same litigation.

Both Marshalls from that appeal — Anna Nicole Smith, aka Vickie Lynn Marshall, and her stepson, E. Pierce Marshall — are now deceased. The case that was just granted cert is captioned Stern v. Marshall: “Howard K. Stern, Executor of the Estate of Vickie Lynn Marshall, Petitioner v. Elaine T. Marshall, Executrix of the Estate of E. Pierce Marshall.”

(Executrix. That word is nothing short of delicious.)

Here are the questions presented in Stern v. Marshall, via SCOTUSblog:

(1) Whether the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)(C) contravenes congressional intent; (2) whether Congress may authorize core jurisdiction over debtors’ compulsory counterclaims to proofs of claim; and (3) whether the Ninth Circuit contravened Supreme Court precedent and created a circuit split by holding that Congress cannot constitutionally authorize non-Article III bankruptcy judges to enter final judgment on all compulsory counterclaims to proofs of claim.

“[W]hether the Ninth Circuit contravened Supreme Court precedent and created a circuit split….” I’m guessing the answer to that one is yes?

So what does this mean in more practical terms for the estate of Anna Nicole Smith? Biskupic provides some background:

The case involving Anna Nicole Smith, who died in 2007, marks the second high-court round in the saga of the former Playboy Playmate, her octogenarian husband and his son. Smith, whose legal name was Vickie Lynn Marshall, married Texas billionaire Howard Marshall in 1994 after meeting him at an adult club where she was a dancer. At the time, she was 26 and he was 89. Marshall died 14 months later.

We’re guessing he died a happy, happy man.

In the earlier Supreme Court case, decided in May 2006, the justices revived her effort to win millions from Marshall’s estate; a lower U.S. appeals court had thrown out the award. The widow and Marshall’s son Pierce had been battling over how much of the inheritance she was due.

Pierce Marshall died in 2006, shortly after the first Supreme Court case was decided, and his estate has now taken up the battle against hers. The new legal question tests how various claims creditors and debtors in certain bankruptcy cases should be weighed.

A number of prominent lawyers and large law firms are involved. The SCOTUS docket lists Kent Richland, of the appellate boutique Greines Martin Stein & Richland, as counsel of record for the petitioner (Anna Nicole’s estate). Richland had some Biglaw help: also involved in preparing the cert petition were Bruce Ross and Vivian Thoreen of Holland & Knight. The other side, Pierce Marshall’s estate, is also represented by a heavy hitter: G. Eric Brunstad Jr. of Dechert (a veteran Supreme Court litigator in bankruptcy cases, as well as my former bankruptcy law professor).

In other SCOTUS news, the Court has changed its policy on the release of audio recordings of oral arguments. It will the post the audio of oral arguments on the Friday at the end of each oral argument week. This is a wonderful development (as explained by Orin Kerr over at the Volokh Conspiracy).

Getting same-day audio, which is what Kash and I argued for in the Washington Post, would have been even better. But Professor Kerr has a thoughtful analysis as to what might be driving this policy:

I would guess that releasing the audio at the end of the week is a compromise designed to satisfy the Supreme Court geeks while minimizing the risk that the mainstream press will use the clips to report on the Court’s work. For law geeks, the transcript will tide us over until Friday when we can load the mp3s on our iPods for a weekend listen. For radio and TV reporters, on the other hand, the delay from an argument in the beginning or middle of the week until the audio is released on Friday will be so long that the clips won’t be nearly as newsworthy by the time they are posted.

This makes sense. So let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth; this is definitely a step in the right direction. Kudos to the justices for making the Court a little more accessible to the American people.

High court to hear Anna Nicole Smith inheritance case [USA Today]
Stern v. Marshall [SCOTUSblog]
Bravo to the Justices for the New Audio Policy [Volokh Conspiracy (Orin Kerr) via Twitter (Kashmir Hill)]

Earlier: Breaking: Ninth Circuit Stiffs Anna Nicole Smith’s Estate
Prior ATL coverage of Anna Nicole Smith

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