WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The fate of Anna Nicole Smith's body was in the hands of three appeals court judges Tuesday who will decide whether to overturn a trial court ruling that meant the Playboy model would be buried in the Bahamas.
The Florida 4th District Court of Appeal is considering a petition filed Monday by the centerfold's estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, who challenged the trial court's decision last week that gave control of Smith's body to a court-appointed advocate for her infant daughter, Dannielynn.
The advocate, Richard Milstein, and the attorney for Smith's boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, have until 2 p.m. Tuesday to respond.
Milstein had said he would bury Smith in the Bahamas beside her 20-year-old son, who died last year.
Arthur wants Smith buried in her native Texas. She claimed in the petition that Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin had no authority under Florida law to grant custody to the advocate, and that the mother is the "legally recognized person" to take Smith's remains.
In an earlier filing, Milstein said that "every witness including Arthur testified that Anna Nicole Smith expressed an interest in being buried in either California or the Bahamas" and as "a matter of undisputable law, Dannielynn is her mother's 'next of kin'; Arthur is not."
Arthur's lawyer, Roberta G. Mandel, said her client was willing to take the fight to the state Supreme Court.
"This mother is a mother who deserves the right to bury her child," Mandel said.
Telephone messages left for Mandel and Milstein were not returned after the appeals court decision. Seidlin declined to comment.
Stern attorney Ron Rale said his client was continuing the fight.
"We've obviously been preparing just in case," Rale said. "But this is just sad that Virgie is pursuing her appeal."
Smith, 39, died in a Florida hotel Feb. 8, sparking legal disputes in Florida, California and the Bahamas.
In the Bahamas, a judge scheduled a hearing for next month in Dannielynn's guardianship dispute between Arthur and Stern, who is listed as the father on the birth certificate. The judge has barred Stern from taking the girl out of the Bahamas until a custody ruling.
Stern and two other men claim they are 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.
Birkhead attorney Debra Opri indicated after Monday's hearing that DNA tests were expected, but she would not elaborate.
In an interview aired Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, Birkhead talked about his plans and hopes for the outcome.
"I see just me and my daughter. Me taking her to school and just playing," Birkhead sad. "My daughter has become my life. That's what I am fighting for. What kind of dad would I be if I didn't fight for my daughter?"
A medical examiner has yet to determine Smith's cause of death. Toxicology results could take up to two more weeks.
Smith was married to Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II 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 and her baby daughter could stand to inherit millions.