It appears that Anna Nicole Smith’s recent Supreme Court victory may result in a flood of federal litigation of probate matters. My Florida friend and fellow law blogger Juan Antunez (Florida Probate Litigation. com) ruminates on this idea in his blog today and contemplates spending a lot more time in federal court in the future.
Smith, herself, may end up on the losing side of her case once it returns to the Texas probate court. After all, the Supreme Court did not award her one red cent of the millions she is suing to recover. All she has won is the right to another day in a Texas courtroom.
In its decision, however, the Supreme Court has established the right to litigate in federal court certain matters that have always been the exclusive province of a state probate court. Before litigants and lawyers race down to the federal courthouse to file their papers, it would probably be a good idea to pick their federal cases wisely. I cannot help but wonder out loud just how excited the average federal district court judge will be to have his or her calendar clogged with a bunch of local probate matters dripping with the vitriol that so often accompanies a war between relatives. Consider also that, at least in New York, Surrogate Court Judges and their law assistants are steeped in the expertise that can only come from years of specializing in one particular area of the law. Unless a federal forum will provide my client with an avenue of relief not otherwise available under the circumstances, I will probably stick to the advice my father used to give me when I was a young boy which was “don’t make a federal case out of it.”