Monday, April 13, 2009

Forum Shopping

Marshall v. Marshall, the decade-long litigation surrounding the estate of Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II and Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith, is back in the news, and new questions are arising. Curiously, thanks to some clever manipulation by Howard K. Stern, Smith’s former lover and continual lawyer, the ruling that once settled the case right here in Harris County may now, it seems, ultimately be decided by federal bankruptcy courts — in California.

After Smith’s mother, Virgie Arthur, sued Bonnie Stern (sister of Howard K. Stern) and others for defaming her in an orchestrated series of blog posts, Bonnie Stern may have avoided a defamation case in Harris County by filing for bankruptcy in California. Once again, Harris County’s courts and their search for justice are undercut by a leap to California bankruptcy court.

This practice, called “forum shopping,” uses jurisdictional peculiarities unique to a court or geographical locale as a basis for seeking out a court more likely to render a favorable verdict for one’s case.

In the first case — Smith attempted to undo her husband’s written will and estate plan after his death. After a 14-month marriage, Smith decided to challenge her husband’s will on the basis that Marshall had verbally promised to include her in his will. While the claim would fail abysmally in a Harris County probate court, Smith’s legal team was able to accomplish a remarkable feat. In a textbook case of forum shopping, they went to a bankruptcy court in the state of California, and there they got a federal bankruptcy judge to award her nearly half a billion dollars from her husband’s estate. While this judgment was dramatically reduced by a federal district court in California and later completely set aside by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, it was an audacious legal maneuver.

Full Article and Source:
Keep California out of Texas court cases


Anonymous said...

Wow, the fact that this case is back in the news illustrates the awful delay that drags out for years and years.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't the case heard in the Supreme Court where Smith won?

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of forum shopping and I'm not sure how I feel about it.

At first glance, I would think it's ok - people need to use every avenue to get justice, because we can't count on getting it in the courts.

Anonymous said...

".....Bonnie Stern may have avoided a defamation case in Harris County by filing for bankruptcy in California..."

Aha, bankruptcy court is the place to go, so the defendant can find a way out of owing any money in any future judgements agaisnt the defendant, the petitioner.]

It appearts, this is the American way of avoiding consequences for one's actions and sticking it to the plaintiffs.

Conclusion: Difficult next to impossible to obtain justice in the USA.