With characters as colorful as Anna Nicole Smith and Howard K. Stern, the battle over who gets the former model’s body has found an equally outsized match in Florida Circuit Court Judge Larry Seidlin, who is presiding over the case.
Seidlin – who earlier compiled a demo tape of his engaging courtroom theatrics to shop around for a possible TV deal, according to TMZ.com – has made his own headlines with his playful, outspoken and occasionally sharp manner, whether attacking terms in Smith’s will (“no woman in America would sign a clause like that”) or honing in on Smith’s drug use and Stern’s financial dependence on Smith.
Levity is an added factor in Seidlin’s courtroom. Larry Birkhead, who is battling Stern in a side dispute over paternity of Smith’s 5-month-old daughter Danielynn, confessed on the stand that he was “having a hard time” reaching a conclusion on where he’d like to see Smith’s body buried. “You?” Seidlin interjected. “What about me?”
The Fort Lauderdale judge, 56 and a 28-year veteran of the bench who has worked mostly in family law, has often referenced his Brooklyn upbringing and his time driving a New York City cab while he completed studies at Hunter College. (For more on Judge Seidlin, visit CNN.com.)
A former legal counsel for the Broward County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office, Seidlin couldn’t resist the chance to quiz Smith’s mother Virgie Arthur – a retired Texas sheriff’s deputy – about the relationship between cops and doughnuts.
In addition, Seidlin demanded to know how a Texas attorney on Arthur’s team, John O’Quinn, came to have the “O” in his name, opening a discussion of the 17th century origins of the lawyer’s family. Seidlin even described his own metaphors from the bench as “Shakespearean.”
Seidlin’s assignment to the Smith case was coincidental: He was the next one up on the rotation when Stern’s motion to claim Smith’s body came up in probate court.
Stern, Smith’s longtime lawyer and companion, says he is entitled to the body as the executor of Smith’s will and wants to carry out Smith’s wish to be buried next to her son Daniel in the Bahamas.
Arthur, as Smith’s mother, claims next-of-kin status and wants the body for burial in a family plot in Texas. Birkhead has aligned himself with Arthur, but now says his desire would be to see Smith buried in California; her dream was to be interred near Marilyn Monroe, although he opposes separating mother and son.
Whatever his decision, Seidlin has shown a determination to get past the profiteering over Smith’s life – and now her death. “Is it the heart that’s chasing this, or is it money chasing this?” he asked of the combatants. “Or is it a combination of both?”