SANTA ANA — The fight between Playboy pinup Anna Nicole Smith and her stepson over the fortune left by her late husband went to federal court Tuesday with lawyers arguing over whether the Texas oilman intended to leave her an inheritance worth $474 million.
In his opening statement, attorney Phil Boesch, who represents Smith, said J. Howard Marshall had always intended that the former stripper and Playmate of the Year get a share of his inheritance.
But his son, E. Pierce Marshall, used every means to block it, Boesch argued.
There was “a declaration of war” that included commandeering his father’s stock in a petroleum company to keep Smith from gaining control of it, Boesch said.
Smith met Howard Marshall at a strip club where she was working as a lap dancer. They married at a drive-in chapel in Houston in 1994, when she was 26 and he was 89.
The current hearing is the latest round in a long-running legal battle in which Smith has tried to claim the huge inheritance from Howard Marshall, who died in 1995.
Pierce Marshall, 63, is appealing a previous California bankruptcy court’s decision to award Smith $474 million from the estate.
At Tuesday’s hearing before U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, Boesch said he will present a memo to Pierce Marshall from a lawyer in which a plan is allegedly laid out to seize control of Howard Marshall’s assets before his death in order to leave “less for mischief and less for ’Miss Cleavage.”’
Boesch said Smith, whose real name is Vickie Lynn Marshall, did not take advantage of the aging tycoon and even refused his initial marriage proposals to pursue her career.
“She’s not taking the money and running,” Boesch said. “The fabricated gold digger ...doesn’t exist.”
Smith sat quietly in the courtroom dressed in a camel knit sweater and pants, occasionally dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Pierce Marshall sat grimly across the aisle.
His lawyers.argued that his father intentionally left Smith out of a living trust established to oversee his estate because he feared she was unable to handle money and would be easily fleeced.
By doling out more than $6 million in jewelry, real estate and clothing to Smith, Howard Marshall intended that she would become financially independent while he taught her sound financial practices, lawyer Rusty Hardin said.
But later, Marshall commented to a friend: ’“That girl’s unteachable,”’ Hardin said.
Hardin said Smith had gone through all the gifts by the time she filed for bankruptcy in 1996.
Both sides, however, agreed that Smith had played an important role in reinvigorating the tycoon who had lapsed into despondency after the 1991 death of his second wife.
“We have never contended that (Marshall) didn’t care for Vickie Marshall,” Hardin said.
Hardin also defended his client.
“Pierce Marshall is not the evil brother in the attic,” Hardin said. “He’s a guy who did his father’s bidding all his life...J. Howard was in charge to the end.”
Judge Carter decided in August that Smith must testify before he can decide on whether the previous ruling granting her $474 million will be reinstated.
Carter also said he will need to hear testimony from Pierce Marshall.
Smith filed for bankruptcy in 1996 in Los Angeles, where she moved after her marriage. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Samuel Bufford awarded her the $474 million last December after sanctioning Pierce Marshall for failing to produce materials requested by the court and interfering with Smith’s expectation of a “gift” from her husband’s estate.
After a contentious trial, a probate court in Texas ruled in May that the 1993 Playboy Playmate of the Year had no claim to the estate.
Carter then threw out the original ruling in California that awarded the $474 million to Smith, pending his own review.
The judge said testimony from Smith, Marshall and others is necessary because the claims and counterclaims between the two are too “wildly at odds” for him to rule based on court transcripts alone.