High Court Victory For Anna Nicole

Anna Nicole Smith, leaves the U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2006, in Washington. With an oil fortune on the line, the former stripper encountered a sympathetic audience at the Supreme Court . (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that one-time stripper and Playboy magazine Playmate Anna Nicole Smith could pursue part of her late husband's oil fortune.

Justices gave new legal impetus to Smith's bid to collect millions of dollars from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II. Her late husband's estate has been estimated at as much as $1.6 billion.

Smith has been embroiled in a long-running cross country court fight with Marshall's youngest son, E. Pierce Marshall. The court's decision, which was unanimous, means that it will not end anytime soon.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said Smith should have a fresh chance to pursue claims in federal court.

"This is a victory for the federal courts over state courts more than it is a victory for Smith," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "The ruling does give her an opportunity to vindicate her rights — but it doesn't guarantee that victory. What it does guarantee is that the federal courts can sometimes get involved in probate cases like this."

But Smith's case had brought unusual drama to the normally sedate high court.

Dressed in all black, the former stripper wept in the courtroom in late February as justices discussed Marshall and whether he had intended to provide for her in death. When she arrived at the court, several photographers were knocked to the ground in a scuffle to photograph her.

She was a 26-year-old topless dancer when she married Marshall, then 89, in 1994. He died the following year at age 90, setting off an intense family fight.

In Smith's fight for Marshall's money, two courts collided. A Texas state court awarded her nothing, but a California Federal Court gave her $88 million. The Marshall family, which won the Texas case, argued that the feds should butt out, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reported in February.

Smith, the spokeswoman for a diet products company, had been awarded $474 million by a federal bankruptcy judge. That was later reduced by a federal district judge and then thrown out altogether by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit. The case now goes back to California.

And it's unlikely to end anytime soon, CBS Radio News' Barry Bagnato reports. Often, after a decision such as this, settlement talks begin. But Marshall's son is stubbornly opposed to Smith's claim and he's expected to keep fighting her for years.

  • Francie Grace

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