Today I’ll help you know enough about this recent Supreme Court opinion to sound interesting at this afternoon’s 4th of July barbecue.
In its split 5-4 decision two weeks ago, the Court resolved a fight between a Texas probate court and a California bankruptcy court. The Texas court had ruled in favor of the heirs of Anna Nicole Smith’s deceased husband, J. Howard Marshall II. The bankruptcy court had ruled in favor of Anna Nicole. In the Supreme Court, Texas won.
The Court determined that although the bankruptcy court had followed the law in overruling the Texas Probate Court’s decision against Anna Nicole, that law was unconstitutional. It gave too much power to the bankruptcy court over other courts.
So the heirs of Anna Nicole get nothing. The heirs of her deceased husband get everything. About $1.6 billion.
Howard Marshall and Anna Nicole Smith had married in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. He’d been married twice before. Each of those other marriages had lasted 30 years. This one with Anna Nicole lasted 14 months, until he died.
Even before her husband’s death, Anna Nicole had filed a law suit in Texas against his primary heir, her step-son E. Pierce Marshall, for “tortious interference”—preventing his father from creating a large trust benefiting Anna Nicole. Then a year after her husband’s death, Anna Nicole filed a bankruptcy in California because of an $850,000 judgment against her for sexual harassment of an employee.
Neither of the two main parties to these court proceedings survived the litigation. The heir, Pierce Marshall, died in 2006, at the age of 67. Three months later Smith gave birth to a girl, and while Smith’s 20-year old son from her first marriage was visiting them at the hospital, he died from a lethal combination of drugs. Before the end of that same month, Anna Nicole and Howard Stern, her “longtime partner,” had a “commitment ceremony” on a yacht off the Bahamas. Five months later, Anna Smith died from “combined drug intoxication.” She was 39.
Now, more than five years after her death, and fifteen years after she filed her bankruptcy, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on June 23 finally completed that bankruptcy case.