Court Rules Anna Nicole Smith's Body Cannot Be Moved

Monday, February 26th 2007, 9:29 am
By: News On 6

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A Florida appeals court issued a stay Monday in the dispute over Anna Nicole Smith's body, ruling that her remains cannot be moved to the Bahamas until the judges hear a challenge from the starlet's estranged mother.

The Florida 4th District Court of Appeal is considering a request by Virgie Arthur to overturn a trial judge's decision giving control of Smith's body to the attorney for the centerfold's infant daughter. That attorney decided Smith should be buried in the Bahamas beside her 20-year-old son, who died last year of apparent drug-related causes.

Arthur has been seeking to bury her daughter in her native Texas.

The court gave other attorneys in the case until 2 p.m. Tuesday to respond to the challenge.

Earlier Monday, Judge Larry Seidlin rejected Arthur's request to reconsider last week's ruling, saying he wanted to preserve Smith's dignity by having the funeral soon. Seidlin declined to speak to reporters.

Smith died in a Florida hotel Feb. 8 at age 39. A medical examiner has yet to determine her cause of death. Her body remains at the examiner's office.

Arthur's attorneys claim the judge had no authority to grant custody of Smith's body to the little girl's court-appointed attorney, and that Arthur is Smith's only legal next of kin.

Arthur ``was the proper and the legally recognized person authorized to make the ultimate decision'' about her daughter's remains, the appeal said.

Arthur's lawyer, Roberta G. Mandel, also complained that Seidlin's ruling would require Smith's mother to obtain a passport and airline tickets to visit her daughter's grave.

Outside court, Mandel said Arthur was willing to take the dispute to the state Supreme Court, if necessary.

``This mother is a mother who deserves the right to bury her child,'' Mandel said. ``The trial court treated her as though she was nothing.''

Ron Rale, an attorney for Smith's boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, said Arthur should honor her daughter's wishes to be laid to rest in the Bahamas.

``I believe the testimony was clear where Anna Nicole wanted to be buried, and anything that obstructs that, to complete her wishes as soon as possible, is sad,'' Rale said.

Richard Milstein, the court-appointed attorney for Smith's 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn, did not immediately return a phone message, and neither did the public relations firm representing him. He said Saturday that the funeral would not take place before Tuesday.

In the Bahamas, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Isaacs dealt only with procedural matters at a private hearing Monday to determine Dannielynn's guardianship, said Wayne Munroe, an attorney for Smith's estate there.

Isaacs scheduled the next hearing for March. Stern is listed as the father on the birth certificate, but the judge has barred him from taking the girl out of the Bahamas until a custody ruling.

Two other men also claim to be Dannielynn's father. Los Angeles-based photographer Larry Birkhead wants a Fort Lauderdale court to enforce a California judge's orders so he can get DNA samples from Smith's body and the baby. Frederic von Anhalt, the husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, also says he may be the father.

Smith married Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. The reality TV star and Playboy playmate had been fighting his family over his estimated $500 million fortune since his death in 1995.