Lawyer Andrew Cohen analyzes legal affairs for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
(JIM RUYMEN/AFP/Getty Images)
I hope you were doing something else today while a Florida judge conducted a hearing to determine the disposition of Anna Nicole Smith's body. Florida Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin in the span of a few hours made the infamously pathetic Lance Ito, the O.J. Simpson judge, look like the great Oliver Wendell Holmes. But, truly, should we be surprised that a sordid story that begat a sordid case would be determined by a sordid hearing the details of which ought to shock the conscience of every serious judge and lawyer in the country?
Me? Alas, I was watching Judge Seidlin live from Fort Lauderdale as he failed repeatedly and grandly and with great style to control the lawyers—lord, there were so many lawyers!—before him in a crowded courtroom. His job was a fairly simple one: he was charged with sorting out who as a matter of law ought to have custody of Smith's body so that it can be buried or disposed of in some way. Smith's mother wants to bring the body back to Texas. Smith's sorta hubby Howard K. Stern wants her buried down in the Bahamas. And complicating the matter is the fact that several parties wanted Smith's body to be again swabbed for D.N.A. in order to help with the next chapter of this silliness- who gets custody of Smith's little girl.
If you missed Seidlin's performance, and the performance of the herd of lawyers before him, I can barely do it justice here. He thought he was being funny but wasn't. The lawyers talked over one another as if they were performing in a Broadway musical. They raised their voices to the judge and to one another and at one point it almost seemed like the judge was flirting—to be fair let's call it kibitzing—with one of the attorneys. Trust me, folks. This is not what the vast majority of hearings look and feel like. Trust me, folks. This is the exception that proves the rule. Our justice system is much, much better than what you may have seen down in south Florida today.
(AP Photo/Lou Touman, Pool)
Do I know what Judge Seidlin was thinking as he conducted himself so carelessly and disrespectfully in a matter involving the disposition of a body? Do I know why he allowed the lawyers to shout at him and each other? Do I know why some judges and lawyers seem to lose their minds when they know the cameras are rolling and the world is watching? Do I know why he made complicated what ought to have been easy? Of course I don't. All I know is that whatever Anna Nicole Smith was or was not in life she deserved more than this catty, miserable spectacle in death.