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Judge Overturns Anna-Nicole Smith's $475 Million Court Win
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Thursday May 24, 2001) - A federal judge on Thursday threw out a $475 million judgement for former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith (news - web sites) in a battle over her late, 90-year-old husband's estate, saying he wanted to rule on the case himself after reviewing a decision by a bankruptcy court judge. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Samuel Bufford last year awarded Smith -- who married oil baron J. Howard Marshall in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26 -- $475 million from his estate after a court battle with his son Pierce Marshall.
Pierce Marshall, who is also fighting Smith over the estate in Texas probate court, appealed Bufford's decision to U.S. District Judge David Carter -- saying that the federal courts had no right to intervene in the matter. A jury in the Texas probate court found that Smith had no claim to her late husband's estate. Carter ruled on Thursday that the federal courts did have jurisdiction on the case, but threw out the huge award and said he would review of the facts of the case. Carter, who sits in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, California, said he might hear from witnesses and consider the legal issues himself, but would take Bufford's decision as a recommendation.
The written ruling left both sides in the bitter, two-state legal struggle claiming at least partial victory. Pierce Marshall said in a statement that Carter's ruling was ``a major victory defending my father's estate plan'' and predicted that Carter's review of the case would show that Smith's claims have ``absolutely no merit.'' But attorney Rex Heinke, who represents Smith, said the fact that Carter kept the case in federal court was a victory for his client. The California case found its way before Bufford after Smith filed for bankruptcy. ``We're delighted that Judge Carter held that the federal courts have jurisdiction in this dispute,'' he said.
The Texas probate jury ruled that younger son Pierce Marshall was the sole heir to his father's fortune and that, in effect, neither Smith nor his older brother, Howard Marshall III, had a claim to it. The jury also ordered the older brother to pay $35 million in damages and legal fees to Pierce and his lawyers. Smith has said that J. Howard Marshall offered her half his money to marry him, but had no proof of it. Howard Marshall also said his father promised him a share of the estate, but had little to prove it.
Pierce Marshall fought them on claims that Smith, now 33, was a gold digger who milked his father for $7 million in gifts while he was alive and that his brother was disinherited after a 1980s business dispute with his father.
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