Lap Dances, Wills and You
(USA Today) by Jonathan Turley
It is a classic American tale: Boy meets stripper, boy marries stripper, stripper goes to court to get the dead boy's estate. Of course, in this case, the "boy" was 90-year-old oil magnate Howard Marshall and the stripper is the buxom reality-TV star Anna Nicole Smith. The court is none other than the U.S. Supreme Court, where Anna's appearance Tuesday will draw more coverage than it would if Chief Justice John Marshall returned from the dead for the argument.
In the case of Marshall v. Marshall (Smith's legal name is Vickie Lynn Marshall), the characters are more interesting than are the issues.
This case, however, might have far-reaching consequences for both state and federal courts. The court will decide whether federal courts should defer to state probate courts in matters of disputed wills. Indeed, Smith might achieve a small type of legal immortality - becoming for probate law what Miranda was to criminal law and Brown was to constitutional law. Of course, before she becomes the pin-up girl for probate lawyers, the court must sift through a case that would have been rejected by Hollywood scriptwriters as a bad Dallas re-run.
An unusual path
Smith's transformation from stripper to law giver is quite a turnaround by any measure. It began when Howard Marshall's chauffeur drove him to Rick's Cabaret, a strip club in Houston, and he saw Smith, a popular 23-year-old topless dancer and a Playboy model. Marshall was an 86-year-old in a wheelchair with a penchant for strippers. (His mistress for 22 years was another Houston stripper, Jewel DiAnne "Lady" Walker, who had died two months earlier from complications from liposuction surgery.)
While Smith described him as a "frisky man," Marshall lived only 14 months after their marriage. When he died, things got ugly with Marshall's son and heir, Pierce, who revealed that, shortly before his death, Marshall had changed his earlier will to make it irrevocable - a will that did not mention Smith.
These types of disputes are usually resolved in state probate courts. Yet the Texas court was never a promising venue for Smith, who had only a claim of an oral promise from Marshall. (Smith would prove a disastrous witness, appearing in a pink top emblazoned with the word "Spoiled" and admitting that she can't understand most multi-syllabic words). (read more)