Retelling Playboy Playmate's Profile, as Supreme Court Mulls Verdict

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Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” said famous English writer Aldous Huxley—my sentiments too after reading the pseudo profile of former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith in a recent edition of the New York Magazine

The in-depth 16-page article, written on the heels of a pending Supreme Court decision in Stern v. Marshall (formerly Marshall v. Marshall) failed to accurately portray the extraordinary legal case that should have ended when Smith died from a drug overdose in 2007. 

Journalism short of hard facts is nothing more than sensationalism. In this case at stake is a sizable fortune and long-awaited justice due to the Marshall family. The New York story is an illustration of fame hijacking justice. 

Tales told of a sad saga taken from a best-selling novel ripe with greed, sex, drugs and money. Except in this instance, it is the Marshall’s money. And it appears Howard K. Stern—executor of Smith’s estate—Larry Birkhead, and their army of attorneys want some of it. 

But again, whose money is it? Just the facts …

In 1994, a 26-year old Smith married 89-year old Houston oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II. About two weeks after the marriage as part of his estate planning, J. Howard made his trust—which did not include Smith—irrevocable. That means, beneficiaries could be cut out of the trust and replaced with a charity or the amount given to the beneficiary could be altered, but no new beneficiary could be added except a charity.

Marshall made it clear throughout his marriage to Smith and during his estate planning process, that he would provide for her during his life, and that E. Pierce Marshall—his then surviving son—would be the sole beneficiary of his estate. 

Although Marshall showered Smith with nearly $7 million in gifts during their courtship and marriage, she contested his entire estate plan (including the will and trust) in a Texas Probate Court before he died claiming her husband verbally promised her half of his multi-million dollar fortune.  Anticipating an unfavorable ruling in Texas, Smith/Stern’s legal team employed a forum shopping strategy and filed suit in a California bankruptcy court, which resulted in a complete slap in the constitutional face of our court system. 

Meanwhile, a Texas Probate Court was considering the matter and ruled in favor of E. Pierce and against Smith. Years later, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Texas Court decision as the court of record. In this infamous probate case, five different courts from Texas to California to Washington D.C. have issued judgments and opinions in the matter. Smith/Stern’s lawyers have continued to re-litigate the case for almost two decades, refusing to accept an unfavorable verdict.

Somehow, the New York story ignored relevant facts of the case. 

Any day now, our nation’s High Court is expected to render a decision in Stern v. Marshall. It is my hope that the nine Justices end this legal wrangling and bring closure to the Marshall family. May justice prevail.

Janice R. Brenman is a former prosecutor now in private practice with the Los Angeles law firm of Fleming, Greenwald & Associates. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of California, Santa Barbara and went to Southwestern University School of Law. For more information visit Ms. Brenman’s website at http://www.janicebrenman.com.