WASHINGTON - Dressed in all black, former stripper turned weight-loss promoter Anna Nicole Smith fought her way through a throng of photographers and autograph-seekers Tuesday on her way to a Supreme Court showdown in her bid to inherit her late husband's fortune.
Smith didn't say a word and didn't sign any autographs as she and a lawyer tried to slip into a side door of the court.
With millions of dollars on the line, the legal issue, stemming from a nasty family feud over the fortune of Smith's late husband, J. Howard Marshall II, turns on whether state or federal courts have jurisdiction in the matter.
Smith, the spokeswoman for a diet product company, was awarded $474 million by a federal bankruptcy judge. That was later reduced by a federal district judge and then thrown out altogether by a federal appeals court on jurisdictional grounds.
Smith married the oil tycoon in 1994 when he was 89 and she was a 26-year-old topless dancer in Texas. Marshall died the following year. His fortune has been estimated at as much as $1.6 billion.
The high court was hearing arguments in the case, and the eventual ruling will determine whether Smith gets another chance at part of Marshall's estate.
The justices are dealing with a technical question: When may federal courts hear claims that involve state probate proceedings? Smith lost in Texas state courts, which found that E. Pierce Marshall was the sole heir to his father's estate.
A long line of lawyers stretched through the Supreme Court hall more than three hours before the session was to begin, and camera crews were staked out in front of the building.
About two dozen photographers scrambled to snap pictures of Smith and her attorney as they arrived at a side door of the court building. Several photographers were knocked to the ground in their zeal to get a picture of Smith, dressed in a knee-length dress, high heels and black sunglasses.
"Most people will do a double take," said Edward Morrison, a former Supreme Court clerk who specializes in bankruptcy law at Columbia University. "It raises the novelty level and makes a technical issue somewhat more entertaining."
Douglas Baird, a bankruptcy expert at the University of Chicago, said: "I'd suspect some justices haven't the slightest idea who Anna Nicole is."
The Bush administration is siding with Smith as a technical matter, arguing that the justices should protect federal court jurisdiction in such disputes.
Marshall showered Smith, a former Playboy model, with $6.6 million in gifts that included two homes, $2.8 million in jewelry and $700,000 in clothes, and she contends that he also promised her half his estate.
Pierce Marshall said various wills and trusts his father prepared over the years made him the only heir.
A federal court ruled in 2002 that Smith was entitled to compensatory and punitive damages because Pierce Marshall altered, destroyed and falsified documents to try to keep her from receiving money from his father's estate. He denies any wrongdoing, and that decision was thrown out.
The case is Marshall v. Marshall, 04-1544.