The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the estate of Anna Nicole Smith in the latest chapter of the long-running saga over whether a Texas billionaire's alleged promise to give millions from his $1.6 billion estate to his young Playmate wife trumped a will that left his fortune to his son.
The high court ruled that a bankruptcy judge's decision giving millions to Smith from the estate of oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall was decided incorrectly because those judges do not have the constitutional right to reach outside of bankruptcy cases into a probate case.
Chief Justice John Roberts said in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution gives lifetime tenure to federal judges during good behavior and without diminution of salary.
Bankruptcy judges "enjoy neither tenure during good behavior nor salary protection," Roberts said. "We conclude that, although the bankruptcy court had the statutory authority to enter judgment on Vickie's counterclaim, it lacked the constitutional authority to do so." Smith's real name was Vickie Lynn Marshall.
Federal bankruptcy judges are appointed and can be removed by judges on the U.S. Appeals Court and their salaries are linked to that of federal judges. Bankruptcy judges serve 14-year terms.
The family of E. Pierce Marshall, son of J. Howard Marshall, cheered the decision.
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Court Rules Against Anna Nicole Smith's Estate in Battle for Deceased Oil Tycoon's Estate