Larry Birkhead’s ex-lawyer cannot settle their dispute over legal bills from the Anna Nicole Smith paternity case in private arbitration, a judge ruled.
Superior Court Judge Charles C. Lee rejected Debra Opri’s arbitration request in a ruling dated Thursday. The judge said Opri did not sufficiently address Birkhead’s claims that he was defrauded and never agreed to arbitration.
Opri contends that Birkhead owes her more than $600,000 for her legal work on his request for DNA testing of Smith’s baby daughter — testing that in April showed he was the father.
Opri withdrew from the case in March and sued Birkhead two months later, seeking binding arbitration over the legal bills.
Birkhead countersued, contending that Opri owes him $505,250 held in a client trust account. He claims the money — along with $200,000 that Opri already returned — came from a deal he had with the Bravo cable network to talk about the paternity case.
Calls to Opri and her publicist were not immediately returned Thursday.
Birkhead’s lawyer welcomed the ruling.
“I believe that the judge made the right decision,” attorney Michael Trope said.
The decision means the suits, instead of being settled behind closed doors, could be handled in public proceedings.
The judge set a hearing in the matter for Oct. 31.
In December, a Los Angeles judge ruled in Birkhead’s favor and a DNA test later revealed that he was the baby’s father. Smith died in Florida on Feb. 8 of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.