Anna Nicole Smith: Disorder in the Courts

March 20, 2007 — -- The Anna Nicole Smith saga has spawned so many individual legal battles that it's hard to keep up with them all.

For starters, there is of course the mother of all Smith legal battles -- the paternity fight.

While a number of men have laid claim to fathering Smith's baby, Dannielynn, most veteran Smith observers believe it will come down to Larry Birkhead and Howard K. Stern, with the odds heavily favoring Birkhead as the real father.

What's made the paternity question so compelling is another, ongoing legal battle that could see Dannielynn Smith inherit hundreds of millions of dollars from the estate of Smith's second husband, the late Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall. Marshall's will has been disputed in court for years.

Then there's the custody fight. Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, was in a Bahamian court last week trying to wring custody of the baby away from Stern, who she says is an unfit father, if he is even the biological father at all. Another hearing on the custody battle is scheduled Tuesday in the Bahamas.

And while Bahamian and Florida police have both insisted that their ongoing probe into Smith's death is not a murder investigation, new evidence they turned up was enough to delay a Florida medical examiner from announcing his findings last week. Bahamian police met with Florida investigators last week at the hotel where Smith died.

And finally, there is the inquest into Smith's son Daniel's death, which begins next week.

Oh, and don't forget the Bahamian court battle over Horizons, the Nassau home that Stern is fighting to keep amid claims he failed to pay back a loan made to Smith for the house.

Belief That Birkhead Is Biological Father

It's looking like Larry Birkhead may in fact be the father of Dannielynn.

By virtually all accounts, Howard K. Stern is on the ropes, legally speaking.

All the participants in both the paternity hearings and the custody battles appear to have been barred by a judge from speaking to the press. But reports have surfaced in some newspapers and television tabloids that Stern has quietly offered Birkhead a series of deals to avoid a paternity test.

If the coverage is to be believed, Birkhead has reportedly refused a deal that would grant him full custody and acknowledged fatherhood of Dannielynn in return for giving up the control of the estate, which would be administrated by Stern.

Friday, Birkhead emerged from a closed court hearing in the Bahamas, beaming, and gave a cryptic interview to a tabloid television show in which he claimed that "Tuesday is the day,'' and that he expects April to be "the greatest month of my life."

"What seems like [it has] taken months and months in California basically is going pretty quick here in the Bahamas,'' Birkhead told Access Hollywood, apparently referring to his lengthy campaign to force a DNA paternity test. "The speed and direction [the paternity case has taken in Bahamian courts] is great, and I'll be back on Tuesday and I think good things are coming pretty soon. … I think April will be the greatest month in my life, I'm hoping. … I'm pleased with what I heard today … Tuesday's the day.''

Whether that means that DNA tests will finally be ordered on Tuesday or whether a deal between the warring father figures has been reached remains unclear.

Who Gets Custody?

Virgie Arthur declined to comment as she left a Bahamian courtroom last Friday, and her attorney could not be reached for comment. But she's made clear her intentions to gain custody of the child, claiming that Stern is unfit to care for the child and that she could provide a more stable home environment for her granddaughter. Arthur wants to take the child back to Texas.

The apparent gag order has prevented the previously chatty litigants from speaking to the press in recent days. Arthur has allied herself with Birkhead in previous court fights, though it's unclear whether Birkhead would share custody with the baby's grandmother should he be declared the biological father of the baby.

Death Investigation

The investigation into Smith's February death remains ongoing. Broward County Medical Examiner Joshua Perper said last week that he was delaying the announcement of his determination of the cause of Smith's death by up to the two weeks, at the request of Florida police.

Seminole Police Capt. Robert McDaniel told the Miami Herald that the delay in Perper's announcement was not because two new pieces of evidence would change his findings, but because they would "reinforce'' his ruling.

Perper's initial autopsy indicated no foul play, and he said no illegal drugs were found in Smith's system.

Daniel's Inquest

Next Monday, an inquest, or hearing, begins into the September death of Daniel Smith, Anna Nicole's son. He died in a Bahamian hospital room from an apparently accidental overdose of methadone and two prescription drugs -- Zoloft and Lexapro -- that, when combined with methadone, can be deadly.

The chief magistrate overseeing that inquest has said that Anna Nicole Smith's mysterious death, just five months after her 20-year-old son's equally suspicious death, has increased the police's interest in Howard K. Stern, who was present or nearby when both mother and son fell ill and died.

Anna Nicole's death "caused us to lose the weight of her evidence, but at the same time, it has also increased the interest in [Daniel's] inquest because of the way in which she died,'' Bahamian Chief Magistrate Roger Gomez told United Press International. He said the court will "look with interest at the cause of [Smith's] death as well.''

Gomez said that Stern's testimony is critical because "he would have been the only other person present at the time.''

Dozens of witnesses are expected to testify at the inquest next week.

House Guest in the Bahamas

Meanwhile, Stern is holed up at Horizons in the Bahamas with Dannielynn.

The original owner of the house, G. Ben Thompson -- another of Smith's former boyfriends -- claims he loaned $900,000 to Smith for the purchase of the home, but that she and Stern reneged on the deal and never repaid the loan.

Stern has claimed the home was a gift and has accused Thompson of looting the home after Smith's death and stealing personal items, including Smith's computers and personal files.

Thompson claims that he owns the home. The locks on the house have repeatedly been changed by both parties. A hearing on who owns the house has been scheduled for April.

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