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Anna Nicole's Tangled Legal Legacy

Thank you, Joanna Grossman, for today's valiant effort to sort through the legal aftermath of Anna Nicole Smith's demise. You walk us through her hard-fought battle for a piece of her late husband J. Howard Marshall's estate, the sure-to-be hard-fought future battle over who will inherit her estate, the high-stakes contest over paternity of her infant daughter and other lawsuits past and pending. As AP writer Linda Deutsch elsewhere summed it up, "Anna Nicole Smith's legacy could take years to untangle and could leave her baby daughter with millions of dollars or nothing at all."

The word "symbiotic" comes to mind in considering the relationship between Smith and the legal profession. After all, judging from media coverage, it is still not clear whether it was Smith who had her day at the Supreme Court or the Supreme Court that had its day of Anna Nicole. But the relationship, whatever it was, went beyond symbiotic. There is, for one, her involvement with Los Angeles attorney Howard K. Stern, who she did or did not marry in September and who is or is not the father of her daughter. And then there is her late husband, J. Howard Marshall, the oil baron whose estate brought her to the Supreme Court. He, too, was a lawyer who graduated from Yale Law School and, according to Wikipedia, may have spent time on the faculty there teaching -- irony of ironies -- trusts and estates.

Then there are the lawyers caught up in the media maelstrom, such as G. Eric Brunstad Jr., a partner in the Hartford, Conn., office of Bingham McCutchen. For the past seven years, he represented Marshall's family in the battle over his estate. In the wake of Smith's death, as the Hartford Courant reports, this notch on Brunstad's resume earned him a flood of media calls. As he related to a reporter on Friday:

"I went to the office on Thursday thinking I would be working on briefs, and the next thing I knew AP was calling, and then Larry King at CNN and MSNBC. Then it was The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Fort Worth paper and People magazine. I didn't get back to my house in Avon until 12:30 at night and then, at 11:30 this morning, it started up all over again with Inside Edition and Fox News."

Leaving aside the lawyers in Smith's life as lovers and as litigators, there remain those legal professionals who were touched by her life more remotely. One, it would appear, is Terry L. Turnipseed, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, who reportedly attended the Supreme Court argument and wrote several articles about the case. For whatever reason, he issued a statement, republished on PropertyProf Blog, in which he said of Smith's death:

"It's like someone took my heart out, put it in a food processor, turned it on, then put the shredded remains back in my chest, only they forgot that before they put my heart in the food processor they had been using it to dice spicy jalapeños, and so some of the jalapeño seeds are mixed up with my shredded heart, and so it burns, in addition to hurting because, you know, it's been shredded. That's how bad I feel after hearing this news."

The final word on Smith's legal legacy is years away. For the final word of this post, we return to Joanna Grossman's essay:

"There were many aspects of Anna Nicole's life that were unusual. ... But her litigious life makes her unusual as well. Lawyers, courts, and perhaps juries will now be left to sort out the legal morass she left behind."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 12, 2007 at 06:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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