(Squat, probably, which makes it no less entertaining)
There are certain people, situations, and isolated moments within the collective American consciousness that, by chance of oversight or misstep, leave themselves unwittingly susceptible to, and become tantalizingly fecund ground for, those devilishly razor-tongued sisters Parody and Satire (and, on occasion, their grubby-faced, pigtailed, mud-pie-eating step-niece, Public Ridicule). Then there are those subjects who, eschewing dullard vulnerability in favor of a perceived Titanic-scale hubris, go so far as to seemingly invite such unsavory company (Garth Brooks’ pop-rock alter-ego inhabits this unenviable plane, as do Vince McMahon’s XFL and man-of-the-hour Ken Lay).
But when, in the course of human events, there arises a force that does not simply inspire the slings and arrows of outrageous at-large needling, does not merely ask for, beg, demand them, but positively splinters one’s door with a redwood battering-ram and comes bounding into one’s living room with a notarized request form and list of references, what’s to do? I mean, one can only flash a tight smile and demurely look away for so long, right? Have the Saturday Night Lives and E! Talk Soups of the world some impregnable monopoly on tearing-down-while-up and kicking-and-spitting-upon-while-down? Conversely, what price human dignity? If you prick Billy Ray Cyrus, does he not bleed? Hath not a Tonya Harding eyes, hands, organs, a retch-inspiring sex tape with some dude named “Gillooly?” At what point have we, the cherry-picking, cheap-shot-happy public, dragged ourselves sufficiently downward to realize that there, but for the grace of God (and a few trillion brain cells) go we?
Think of your karma, man.
Done? OK. Consciences sated, let’s dive whole-hog into the unconscionable human train-wreck that is Marshall v. Marshall, alternately known as Anna Nicole Smith v. That Rich-Old-Dude’s Righteously Pissed-Off Son. The latest chapter in this merciless, 11-year saga unfolded last Tuesday, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (that’s right, Anna Nicole Smith was in the same room as Clarence Thomas, and the world, suspiciously, neglected to explode) that Ms. Smith retains the right to struggle against her stepson for more cash than is commonly conceivable.
For those fortunate enough to have missed any of the extensive back-story herewith (or for those with the exquisite inability to tear their eyes from car accidents or refrain from probing mouth-sores with their tongues), let’s re-cap:
June 27, 1994: Following a two-years-plus courtship, Anna Nicole, née Vickie Lynn Smith, née Vickie Lynn Hogan, then 26 and a topless dancer, marries J. Howard Marshall II, then 89 and a richer-than-the-Monopoly-guy captain of industry. Ergo, Vickie Lynn Marshall. Throughout their marriage, the elder Marshall bestows upon the significantly more-buxom Marshall a considerable quantity of gifts, money, and assorted spoils-of-oil.
August 4, 1995: The elder Marshall passes, notably declining to provide anything in his will for Vickie Lynn. She, however, maintains that her man promised her a sizeable trust, to provide for her post-coil-shuffling. Stepson and ultimate estate beneficiary E. Pierce Marshall begs mightily to differ, and the curtain rises on what will be an intensely high-profile and moreover, junkyard-nasty battle over the accumulated wealth of a man’s near-90 years.
But just when you think you’ve got yourself a good, old-fashioned, no-frills greed-off, wouldn’t you know it? Anna Nicole hauls off and throws what they call a Texas-size wrench (cue Texas-size groan) into the proceedings. In January 1996, she files for bankruptcy in California, never mind that the will is still under review in a Texas probate court. The action creates a manifold — and rather uncommon — jurisdictional conflict between federal, state, probate, and bankruptcy courts, and things begin to get complicated.
“Bankruptcy courts have a general jurisdiction over any lawsuits that involve the person who’s gone bankrupt,” says UT law professor and federal-courts expert Ernest Young. “A lawsuit is an asset Bankruptcy tends to suck in all other types of lawsuits to divide `assets` among creditors.”
Vickie’s California bankruptcy court, in other words, is flexing its muscles at Pierce’s Texas probate court. But Texas flexes right back. Probate cases, Young says, are generally viewed as an exception to even federal jurisdiction. Thus, conflict.
“There were basically two questions,” says Craig Goldblatt, a Washington, D.C., bankruptcy lawyer who, with Young, filed a brief in the case. “The first question is, whatever the source, is there an exception to federal jurisdiction because the case relates to probate? Yes. But is the exception narrower in bankruptcy?”
Things get ugly now. Anna Nicole’s attorneys tell reporters that Pierce resorted to fraud and forgery in desperate cash-grabs; Pierce, as a result, files for defamation against his stepmother. She sticks, charging that Pierce interfered with the remittance of her gift from J. Howard. This charge officially brings the matter into the bankruptcy court, which rules in Anna’s favor to the tune of more than wait for it $460 million. Pierce counters with an après-trial dismissal motion, saying that the interference matter should have been settled in the Texas probate court (which, by the way, rules that J. Howard’s will supersedes all other claims, and awards everything to Pierce). Meanwhile, Pierce asks a federal district court to overturn the bankruptcy court’s award, but succeeds only in getting Vickie’s payoff reduced to a paltry $88 million. To the rescue comes the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reverses the district court’s opinion by asserting that, as a probate matter, the case is not open to federal review.
All of which brings us to May 2, when Justice Ginsburg delivered the Supreme Court’s opinion: The case is not purely a probate matter, and is thus eligible for federal-court contention. Translation: No money yet, but Anna may, if she pleases, start the whole thing over again.
(Further translation: Yee-haw! Bring on the next decade!)
What, then, does the strange case of E. Pierce and Ms. Smith mean for future enterprising, questionably scrupulous young Texans intent on landing themselves a kindly-and-primed-to-keel-over, questionably scrupulous trust-fund er, life-partner?
“It’s like my kids, when they go to Mom and ask for candy,” Young explains. “She says no, they come to me That’s what `Anna Nicole` did `went shopping` for a more sympathetic `verdict`. The effect of the ruling is that it makes it a little easier to shop.”
Which, of course, begs the question: Would you, as a 20-something or thereabouts, marry an 88-year-old for $88 million dollars? A lunch-hour survey of students at Trinity University required discomfiting few attempts to yield an affirmative.
“Yeah, probably,” says Stephanie, 18, laughing like she’s surprised herself.
No judgment of Anna, then?
“No,” she reasons. “There’s people who marry relatively older people for a lot less money.”
So, we’ve got a “probably” on 88 for $88 million? Let’s deal. How about a 60-year-old, for $60 million?
“Yeah,” she laughs again. “Probably more readily.”
Anthony, 21, has to think for a moment.
“If I was a woman,” he says.
Hmm? As a 21-year-old girl, he’d marry an 88-year-old man for $88 million, but he’s averse in his present incarnation to marrying a loaded lady-octogenarian?
“Yeah,” he confirms. “’Cause I can’t do an old woman like that `But` if I was a woman, I could do an old guy like that.”
Interesting. (Paging Dr. Freud.)
Sixty, for $60 million?
No hesitation this time.
“Sixty-year-old woman for six — yeah.”
“Yes. $60 million? Yes.”
Ah, youth. Thus, as Vickie Lynn ascends the cult-pop pantheon — taking her rightful place among the Buttafuocos, the Bobbits, the blond-teacher-who-nailed-her-eighth-grade-Filipino-student-s — worthy successors, nay, protégés, await their respective turns. Hearken unto their rallying cry: