Few of us would choose to spend our time between warring relatives, but the Los Angeles law firm Greines Martin Stein & Richland LLP is getting rich doing just that.

The firm has been at the forefront of two high-profile family law cases recently.

Kent L. Richland was at the side of Vickie Lynn Marshall better known to Playboy readers and TrimSpa devotees as Anna Nicole Smith when she went before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 1.

She, of course, married the late Texas oil plutocrat J. Howard Marshall II in 1994, when she was 26 and he was 89. He died the following year. Anna Nicole claims that J. Howard intended to give her millions from his estate but his plan was thwarted by his son, Pierce, who wanted the money for himself.

A federal bankruptcy judge and federal district judge in California both ruled for Anna Nicole Smith, with the latter awarding her $88 million in 2002. But a Texas probate court had ruled in favor of Pierce in 2001 and a California appellate court said that decision trumped the others. The Supreme Court must decide, among other things, whether matters having to do with wills and estates belong exclusively in the state courts.

On the same day in a California Court of Appeals, Richland's law partner, Irving Greines, represented Janet Burkle in her divorce from supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle.

He's trying to keep his financial matters out of the public eye during the divorce case. Two judges have ruled against Burkle, but state Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, is trying to push a law through the Legislature that would keep some financial matters under wraps.

"I think that the whole industry of divorce is something that is obviously of particular concern to someone who has a lot of assets and the lawyers are a substantial part of that," Richland said. "It costs a lot of money to litigate anything, and particularly the kind of intense litigation that occurs in divorce cases."

Family law business has more than doubled in the last decade at Richland's firm, which specializes in appeals. His 21-lawyer firm's success rate of 20 percent on those cases is impressive, since it's always harder to win once you've lost in a lower court. Family matters, however, involve additional layers.

"You can make a determination if it makes sense to settle and it can be done in a calculated business fashion, but in these cases of family matters the emotional overlay tends to change things," Richland said.

Courting Disaster
California Chief Justice Ronald M. George condemned the condition of California courts in his State of the Judiciary address last month.

"Current conditions in more than 90 percent of our court facilities jeopardize public and staff safety every day," he said. "Two-thirds of present courthouse space is seismically deficient, and other facilities are believed to contain toxic mold. Sixty-eight percent of courthouses do not meet basic fire- and life-safety standards, and in 75 percent of court facilities, adequate access for persons with disabilities cannot be provided."

The courthouse condition has become a particularly sticky subject over the past few years as their ownership is being shifted from counties to the state. Disputes have arisen throughout this process as to who has responsibility for certain upgrades whether they should even be made if the courthouse will simply be torn down and rebuilt when the state takes over.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have further muddied the water when he proposed $1.2 billion as part of his $220 billion bond referendum for courthouse upgrades, because the money set aside does not include seismic retrofitting. Further, state officials believe that the money is not enough and many of the courthouses will never see a dime, according to Michelle Vercoutere, assistant division chief for L.A. County's Chief Administrative Office.

Merger Work
Robert Layton from Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP led a team of three lawyers that guided Downey-based CareMore Medical Enterprises in its acquisition by JPMorgan Partners, a private affiliate of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The firm's Robert Sbardellati and Tim Barnes provided corporate, healthcare and regulatory counseling for their client.

CareMore is a managed health-care provider serving about 20,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Los Angeles and Orange counties. JPMorgan teamed with management company Crystal Cove Partners to find a provider equipped to deal with the changes imposed by the Medicare Modernization Act.

*Staff reporter Emily Bryson York can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235, or at eyork@labusinessjournal.com .

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