02/28/2006 at 02:30 PM EST
It's not every day that there's a photo op at the Supreme Court, but Tuesday was the exception – and it was named Anna Nicole Smith.
Dressed in a knee-length dress, high heels and black sunglasses, the former Playboy pinup encountered sympathy among some justices on the highest court in the land, with several saying that they were concerned Smith was prevented from pursuing a piece of her late husband's fortune.
"It's quite a story," said Justice Stephen Breyer.
Indeed it is. Millions of dollars are at stake in a battle over the fortune of Smith's late husband, J. Howard Marshall II (whom Smith married when he was 89 years old), and the question of whether state or federal courts have jurisdiction in the matter.
Smith, who met Marshall when she was a 26-year-old topless dancer, wed the Texas oil tycoon in 1994. Marshall died the following year. His son, Pierce Marshall, claims his father's various wills and trusts make him the sole heir of a fortune estimated to be as high as $1.6 billion.
The former reality TV star, Playboy pinup and weight-loss pitchwoman was awarded $474 million by a federal bankruptcy judge. The amount was later reduced by a federal district judge and then tossed out altogether by a federal appeals court.
Breyer said there was evidence that Pierce Marshall hired private detectives to keep Smith away from her elderly husband's bedside, the Associated Press reports. Smith's claim is simple, said Justice David Souter: "Just give me the money I would have had."
Justices repeatedly referred to the amount of money at stake, and criticized arguments that only a Texas court had jurisdiction to settle the nasty family feud. "That's just not the way our system works," said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the lone woman justice.
After the hearing about two dozen photographers swarmed Smith and her attorney as they left through a side door of the court building before departing in a black SUV.