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For years the United States has suffered from a wave of unnecessary and frivolous litigation, estimated to cost $250 billion or more every year. But the sad case of Marshall v. Marshall is a particular embarrassment for California, which acknowledged Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week earlier this month. The continuing litigation between Anna Nicole Smith’s estate and the estate of her former husband demonstrates that legal abuse comes in many forms. There apparently is no end in sight to the tragic soap opera surrounding Smith, the onetime Playboy Playmate who married 89-year-old Texas millionaire J. Howard Marshall II. She is dead, but her lawsuit seeking a large share of Marshall’s estate continues. If she loses, her daughter, little Dannielynn, will be left with staggering legal bills. (Or at the very least, Smith’s former attorney and companion Howard K. Stern will be left with a huge receivable). If Smith’s estate wins, the rest of us will pay a higher price for justice in the future. As an attorney specializing in family law, I’m not surprised at the continuing legal battle over Marshall’s estate, outliving both Smith and Marshall’s son, E. Pierce Marshall, the original litigants. Big cases like this take on a life of their own. Smith won Marshall’s attention after he visited the strip club where she was working. They married in 1994 and he died a year later. Although he never adjusted his will, she said that he promised to leave her half of his estate and claimed that E. Pierce Marshall defrauded her. What is astonishing is that Larry Birkhead, Dannielynn’s real father, and Anna Nicole’s estranged boyfriend, Stern, were rumored to be in cahoots shortly after Stern’s tearful testimony claiming to be Dannielynn’s biological father. Stern was even on the guest list for Dannielynn’s first birthday party in early September, a bash Birkhead held in a Louisville socialite’s home. Smith’s two former consorts, who have never met cameras they didn’t like, used Dannielynn’s party as another photo and cash opportunity. It appears that Birkhead and Stern now have a close business relationship. But Stern’s business �litigation � may prove to be Dannielynn’s downfall, potentially leaving her with nothing but legal debt. Currently, Birkhead is engaged in a bitter lawsuit against former attorney Deborah Opri for her fees during the custody battle, and recently, Richard Milstein, former Broward County court-appointed guardian ad litem to Dannielynn, filed nearly a $200,000 legal fee for his services. Birkhead and Stern promptly issued a statement denouncing the bill as “unconscionable”. Their complaint? The amount will squander nearly all of the money remaining in Dannielynn’s trust. What’s worse, Stern appears to be moving full-speed ahead with Smith’s tenuous claims in Marshall v. Marshall, which is sitting in front of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Does this collaboration engender more litigation abuse? Would Birkhead bring all this litigation without the encouragement and support of Stern? After all, how would Birkhead afford such an extravagant venture into this complex litigation? And, where would Stern be without Birkhead and his high-profile daughter? A lawyer with grand ideas and no client, perhaps. This is a “marriage” made in litigation heaven! It’s becoming clear that this “friendship” does not have Dannielynn’s best interests at heart. If she were old enough, would she want all this litigation? After all, it’s based on the claim of one now dead person that another now dead person made oral promises to her that he didn’t keep. Who will prove this case? The witnesses are all dead, including the intended beneficiary of Marshall’s estate, his son. I have some free and uninvited legal counsel for Birkhead: Cut Stern out of Dannielynn’s life. Stop litigating and raise this motherless child that you fathered. It would be better for her and, quite frankly, for the entire court system. Smith originally filed her case in Texas probate court. But, apparently warned that she held a losing hand, she went forum shopping. As some lawyers know, the game is simple: If you don’t like a verdict, repackage the case and shuffle it off to another court. Thus a costly odyssey through federal bankruptcy court, the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court has ensued. The Texas Probate Court and the Ninth Circuit concluded that though J. Howard Marshall II lavished gifts upon Smith during their brief marriage, he had not made her a beneficiary of his will. Nor, added the Texas court, did E. Pierce Marshall interfere with the will. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit for reconsideration on narrow jurisdictional grounds. Unfortunately, the media circus will continue if Stern and Birkhead proceed with the claims in the Ninth Circuit. Another defeat is likely, but the “boys” will retain their celebrity status � a financial asset in today’s culture. As is now clear, Dannielynn continues to be a financial asset to both of them, but no benefit to Dannielynn, in whose name the case continues. (Will the “boys” set up another trust fund with the money received from the photo ops for the first birthday party, rumored to be $1 million?) Although she is the biggest victim, Dannielynn is not the only loser. Frivolous and abusive cases do more than waste just the litigants’ money. Such lawsuits overwhelm an overburdened judicial system, denying prompt justice to those who really need it and whose cases have real merit. Moreover, giving legal players yet another bite at the proverbial apple eliminates legal predictability. If you can’t be certain that you have finished the battle in court even after winning one, two or more verdicts, how can you plan for the future or predict the outcome? Frivolous and repeat litigation such as we see in the various Anna Nicole Smith cases provides yet another example of what’s wrong with our legal system. The only innocent participant is Dannielynn. Sadly, it looks like she will be following in her mother’s footsteps, spending a lifetime in the limelight � either in the courtroom or in the various entertainment weeklies, benefiting the men in her life with nothing for this little girl. And the rest of us will be paying to clean up the resulting legal mess. Lynne Z. Gold- Bikin is the managing partner of the family law practice group and a senior partner at Wolf Block in Norristown, Pa. She is also the former chair of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association, as well as liaison to and from the ABA’s Section of International Law.

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