NASSAU, Bahamas (February 26, 2007) — Legal experts predict Anna Nicole Smith’s ex-boyfriend, Larry Birkhead, will have a tough time winning custody of her baby when the case moves to the Supreme Court of the Bahamas on Monday.
Howard K. Stern, the former model’s partner, is listed on the birth certificate as the father and “there is a very strong legal presumption that what is stated in that document is accurate,” said Thomas A. E. Evans, a prominent Bahamas attorney.
Birkhead, a Los Angeles-based photographer, also must contend with a competing claim from Virgie Arthur, Smith’s mother, who has said she could provide a more stable home for Dannielynn than Stern and should therefore be awarded custody of the girl — who could inherit a fortune.
“We’re ready to fight,” Debri Opri, a lawyer for Birkhead, told reporters outside Nassau international airport shortly after arriving Sunday with her client.
Evans said that there is no specific provision in Bahamian law, which is guided by local statutes and English Common Law, for a man to claim paternity based on DNA. But the court could determine any of those seeking to be the guardian of Dannielynn — or even another party, including the country’s Department of Social Services — should have custody depending on the best interests of the child, he said.
Dannielynn could inherit part of the fortune of Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, whom Smith married in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. She had been fighting his family over his estimated $500 million fortune since his death in 1995.
A quick decision in the paternity case is not expected.
“They are not known for impromptu rulings,” said Sidney Collie, an attorney and former Bahamian senator, about the former British colony’s Supreme Court judges. “They are known for writing long, involved opinions.”
Meanwhile, questions persist about where Smith will be buried.
Florida Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin ruled Thursday that the burial decision should be left to court-appointed attorney Richard C. Milstein, who announced she would be laid to rest in Nassau next to her 20-year-old son, Daniel — who died in the Bahamas in September days after his mother gave birth to Dannielynn.
Arthur, who wants to bury her daughter near her home in Texas, filed an emergency motion Friday asking Seidlin to reconsider his decision and was expected to appeal if he refuses the request.
Milstein said during the weekend that he was working on funeral details for the former Playboy Playmate and reality TV star, who died in a Florida hotel Feb. 8 at age 39.
Her son’s grave, an unmarked plot at the Lakeview Memorial Gardens in Nassau, has become a popular tourist spot — as is “Horizons,” the gated, waterfront home in the capital’s Winton neighborhood where Smith lived with Stern.
In another Nassau courtroom Monday, a separate hearing is scheduled in a dispute over the home in Winton. A South Carolina developer who briefly dated Smith says he advanced her money for the $900,000 house but she did not honor an agreement to pay the mortgage. She had claimed the house was a gift.
Taxis have ferried a seemingly endless stream of gawkers to the house, where Stern has been sequestered with Dannielynn since he returned from Florida on Saturday.
During the past few days, tourists snapped photos of each other, traded the latest gossip about the case and offered dueling opinions on what should become of Smith and her daughter.
“I think she should be laid to rest with her son,” said Lauren Brown, a 42-year-old graphic designer from Boston. “I know her mother doesn’t feel that way but I really think that’s what she wanted.”
Ken Vogt, a 63-year-old retiree from Brainerd, Minn., said Arthur should get custody of Dannielynn and select the burial location.
“It should go to the next of kin and they (Smith and Stern) weren’t married,” he said.
Taxi driver Charles Fowler disagreed for practical reasons: He has been charging $20 per person to take up to five visitors at a time to “Horizons” and would like to add the cemetery to his new tour.
“We’re praying that they bury her here,” he said.