In terms of sheer star power, Hollywood, California, had nothing on Hollywood, Florida.
Anna Nicole Smith's posthumous legal odyssey continued to play out on both coasts Tuesday, but as a closed-door paternity hearing took place in California, the day's real drama—complete with appearances by all the major parties—unrolled in Broward County Circuit Court.
The Florida hearing was the first of what will now be a seriously truncated string of court dates regarding the disposition of Smith's remains and establishment of her next of kin.
Her partner, Howard K. Stern, and mother, Virgie Arthur, are fighting for the legal status, which will grant one of them custody of Smith's remains and ultimate decision over where she will be laid to rest. Stern is angling for a Bahamian burial, in a plot adjacent to late son Daniel, while Arthur wants Smith's body brought back to Texas.
Stern and Arthur, and their respective embattled legal teams, appeared in the Florida courtroom alongside Larry Birkhead, Stern's nemesis in the battle over the paternity of Smith's five-month-old daughter, Dannielynn.
However, a phone call from Dr. Joshua Perper, the county's chief medical examiner and the doctor who conducted Smith's autopsy, interrupted the hearing's afternoon session to inform the parties that, despite being embalmed over the weekend, Smith's remains are deteriorating much more rapidly than expected.
Perper noted that Smith's appearance, particularly in her face, has become discolored and he recommended that any viewing service take place by Saturday at the latest.
Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin, who initially planned on taking up to three weeks to determine Smith's next of kin, said he would now aim to rule on the case by Friday.
"Time is of the essence," he said. "I'm running out of clock."
Stern was ordered to attend the hearing by Seidlin, but Birkhead's presence was not required. His decision to show, however, was praised by the judge. The Los Angeles photographer is due to testify on behalf of Arthur, who in turn has submitted her own affidavit in support of Birkhead in his ongoing paternity suit.
Prior to commencing the hearing, Seidlin called for a clean fight from all sides, requesting that no character assassinations take place during the proceedings. He was perhaps a little late. The hearing got off to an ugly start when Stern lawyer Krista Barth complained that Birkhead attorney Debra Opri had accused Stern of "killing" Smith.
After a brief recess, Seidlin heard opening arguments from all sides and offered to take over jurisdiction of the ongoing paternity case, which is currently based in Los Angeles. His offer was rejected, and while he said "it would help" if he knew who Dannielynn's birth father was in proceeding with the next-of-kin matter, he would move forward as is with the two "alleged fathers" in the courtroom.
"They don't want to do it," Seidlin said after a meeting in his chambers. "The moment is not right. We're going to proceed in this trial without that bit of evidence coming in."
Stern, who decided to appear in person even though Seidlin said he could testify via phone from the Bahamas, was the first to take the stand and referred to Smith as "my whole world. She's my best friend, my lover, the mother of my daughter. [She was] literally everything to me."
Stern further testified that he met Smith in 1996. He eventually became her personal attorney and guru, and then they "ultimately became more than friends" around 1998. He said that they were intimate between 2000 and the time of her death but that they were not exclusive during that time because he "wanted her to be happy."
He also said that the "love of her life" was neither himself nor Birkhead, but her late oil tycoon husband, J. Howard Marshall II.
More to the point, Stern announced that Smith wanted to be buried next to her son in Nassau's Lakeview Mausoleum. Stern said that while he signed the deed on the two adjoining plots, it was Smith who had specifically picked out the land.
According to Stern, Smith was obsessed with her own death and chose the plots for herself and her late son to be buried in together. He also said she chose the plots primarily because of their location—they were slightly protected from bugs, which were a source of fear for both Smith and 20-year-old Daniel, whom Stern equated to being "like a brother to me."
"Anna wanted to go with him," he said. "She said, 'If Daniel has to be buried, I want to be buried with him.' "
Stern noted that Smith initially looked into being buried in a plot in Westwood, near Marilyn Monroe, though financial circumstances prevented her from doing so. After moving to the Bahamas, Stern claimed, Smith made the decision to be buried there.
"Anna was very firm that the Bahamas was her home," he said.
Stern's testimony was roundly dismissed by opposing counsel as hearsay and several key pieces of evidence entered by Stern's lawyers, including Smith's purported will, were rejected.
Seidlin, for one, took major issue with a particular clause in the will [View Anna Nicole's will and all the latest legal documents as a PDF file] in which Smith "intentionally omitted to provide for...future children."
"You got to say to yourself, did she read this will?" a clearly animated Seidlin asked while Stern was on the stand. "What state of mind was she in when she read this will?
"No woman in America would sign a clause like that," he said.
After Stern's testimony, the court recessed and Seidlin requested that Stern return for questioning on Wednesday "for a couple hours," over Stern's objection that he return to the Bahamas and Dannielynn, who is currently under the care of Stern's family. Seidlin allowed Stern to return to the Bahamas tonight, provided he show up in court tomorrow morning.
Smith's estranged mother, who is looking to bury her daughter in Texas, very briefly took the stand before the hearing was adjourned and will be back on the stand tomorrow morning. Birkhead, too, was due to testify today, despite objections by Stern's attorney, but his time has been moved to tomorrow as well.
During Stern's testimony, Seidlin allowed Stern's lawyers to screen an interview given by Smith to Entertainment Tonight in the wake of her son's death last fall, in which she blasted her mother and lodged accusations of sexual abuse.
As Arthur was present, and clearly disturbed, by the footage, Seidlin ordered Stern to remain in the courtroom for Arthur's testimony.
"You suffered through his testimony, he's going to suffer through your testimony," Seidlin said.
While on the stand, Arthur, a police officer, said that her biggest single regret was failing to get Smith off drugs. She also noted that she had never met Stern until today and argued that Smith wanted to be buried along with the rest of her family in Texas.
Meanwhile, while Birkhead and Stern are facing off in Florida, their paternity suit waged on without them, or their primary attorneys, in Los Angeles.
During the closed-door hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Schnider ordered a DNA sample taken from Smith last week be turned over from the Broward County coroner and be tested for paternity by another expert.
Schnider also sided with Stern on at least one issue. He dismissed a contempt-of-court action brought by Opri over Stern allegedly lying about being served with Birkhead's original lawsuit.
The hearing also dealt with the issue of jurisdiction over the paternity proceedings. Birkhead asked the California court to retain jurisdiction because he alleges Dannielynn was conceived in the state. Stern's camp, however, argued to take the legal battle to the Bahamas, where the baby was born and currently resides.
The case appears to be staying put for now, and Schnider ordered a paternity test be carried out on the infant. While he had set a deadline for Wednesday, that came before Smith's death. It's unclear how or when Dannielynn will be swabbed, as she remains in the Bahamas, outside the jurisdiction of both California and Florida courts.
Stern, too, was forced one step closer to submitting for a test. He was served with papers to submit to testing in the parking lot of the courthouse while on recess from the day's hearing.