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''Bombshell'' award delays former Playmate's lawsuit (By Jeff Franks)

HOUSTON- A Los Angeles bankruptcy judge's ``bombshell'' decision to award former Playboy Playmate Anna Nicole Smith $450 million from her late 90-year-old husband's estate forced a delay Thursday in her Texas lawsuit over the inheritance. Opening arguments had been set for Thursday but were postponed until Monday after Texas Probate Judge Mike Wood rejected a defense request for a mistrial, but agreed to quiz potential jurors about their knowledge of the Los Angeles ruling.

Smith is seeking half of oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall's $1.6 billion estate, but son Pierce Marshall is fighting her on grounds she was a gold digger taking advantage of an old man. On Wednesday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Samuel Bufford, presiding over a separate federal lawsuit by Smith in California, said she was entitled to $450 million that Pierce Marshall had unjustly kept from her. Smith and Marshall married in 1994 when she was 26 and he was 89 after meeting at the Houston topless bar where Smith danced. Smith said he promised her half his fortune to become his bride. He died 14 months later in August 1995 at the age of 90, but she got no money and sued Pierce Marshall, keeper of the family fortune, in Texas court. Smith filed for bankruptcy protection in 1996 after she lost an $850,000 judgment brought against her by a former female assistant alleging sexual harassment. As part of the filing, she sued Marshall again in federal court.

The content and timing of Bufford's decision clearly caught everyone off guard. A stunned Pierce Marshall said he would appeal the decision, which he called ``a miscarriage of justice.'' A lawyer from Marshall's team, Don Jackson, asked Wood to declare a mistrial and delay a new trial for a year because of the publicity from ``this bombshell.'' Smith's lawyers urged Wood to finish jury selection, begun last week, and go to opening arguments as scheduled. They said Marshall's lawyers were playing for time to regroup after Bufford's ruling. ``Pierce Marshall started this whole fight. ... Now he's gotten the result and he doesn't like it,'' said lawyer Tom Cunningham. Wood, wanting to get on with the trial, said: ``The decision by the bankruptcy judge has nothing to do with this case.''

Smith, Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1993 and now a model and sometimes actress, sat serenely in the courtroom, drawing pictures on a tablet and once putting her head on the table to rest while the lawyers wrangled. As the Mexia, Texas native entered the courthouse, she said only that she was ``very happy'' about the $450 million award. She told a Houston television station: ''No one ever took care of me in my whole life, and this man did and I loved him for that. ... I hope it ends up that I get everything that he wanted me to have.''

Lee Ware, one of Pierce Marshall's team of lawyers, said she was more likely to end up with nothing. ``Her claim is worthless,'' he said.

Marshall's older son, Howard Marshall III, 63, is also suing Pierce Marshall for part of the estate in the Texas case. He charged that Pierce connived to get him cut out of the will during a 1980 family business dispute.

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