The nearly two decades old, topsy-turvy war over the massive inheritance of an 90-year-old Texas billionaire who married Anna Nicole Smith, a 26-year-old stripper and eventual Playboy model, in his final days will likely continue in Southern California for at least another year.
Inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse on May 30, a federal judge ruled that though Smith's estate lost its claim for $475 million of oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall's $1.6 billion fortune, her six-year-old daughter nevertheless could be entitled to tens of millions of dollars in the form of sanctions as a victim of "malicious" legal sabotage.
According to U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, the "bad faith conduct" by Marshall's son, Pierce, to wreck Smith's legal campaigns was "too pervasive and too egregious to be ignored" and, that even though Pierce is now dead, his estate "may be held liable" for his "win-at-all costs tactics."
Carter acknowledged that similar situations are "rare," but concluded that ignoring the cheating is unacceptable.
"It would promote disrespect for the authority of the federal courts to turn a blind eye to actions that so willfully and blatantly attempted to make a mockery of this justice system," the judge wrote in his 28-page ruling. "Further, it would reward a party for win-at-all-costs tactics, to the deprivation of his opponent. Such behavior cannot be condoned."
In calling for an August 13 hearing on the subject, Carter also declared that Edwin Hunter, Pierce's estate planning attorney, also faces potential sanctions because he too "acted in bad faith" in the case.
Hunter's courtroom opponents did not seek sanctions against him and the U.S. Department of Justice didn't file perjury charges against him, but those facts haven't shielded him from the judge, a former Vietnam War combat Marine, homicide prosecutor and one of California's most respected judges.
Carter declared that he has the "inherent power" to punish legal cheating and told Hunter to be prepared in August to defend himself against sanctions.
In the ruling, the judge recounted numerous examples of what he claims were the backdating of documents, hiding documents, altering documents, destroying documents, suborning false statements and brazen perjury.
"This was done in order to prevent [Smith] from receiving funds," Carter wrote. "The evidence of willfulness, maliciousness and fraud is overwhelming."
Along with Magistrate Judge Arthur Nakazato and U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford, Carter has established that federal court in Orange County is a place where unethical public figures and lawyers operate at their own peril.
Smith (a.k.a. Vickie Lynn Marshall) was married to Marshall for 14 months. His death created one of the most bitter inheritance battles in U.S. History.
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She died from a drug overdose in Florida in 2007, a year after Pierce passed away.
Smith is survived by her daughter, Dannielynn, who was born from a union with photographer Larry Birkhead in 2006.