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Florida judge is trying to keep peace in hearings over Smith

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Broward County Circuit Court Judge Larry Seidlin gestures during a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Broward County Circuit Court Judge Larry Seidlin gestures during a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Alan Diaz, Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — There were angry attacks at times, resounding laughter at others and a standing-room only audience.

And as custody of Anna Nicole Smith's body and of the former Playboy Playmate's infant daughter devolved Thursday into an all-out legal circus, Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin became the affable ringmaster.

On the second day of an often acrimonious emergency hearing over Smith's remains, Seidlin, 56, called lawyers "terrific" and "beautiful." He divulged the minutiae of his days, from his morning swim to the tuna sandwich he was having when assigned the case. He so frequently spoke off the cuff that he seemed like he was auditioning for a TV court show.

And he really seemed to enjoy it.

"It was delightful having everyone," he said at the end of the day.

Everyone probably would not agree.

Smith's longtime companion, Howard K. Stern, claims he is executor of her will and wants her buried next to her son in the Bahamas. Her estranged mother, Vergie Arthur, wants her buried in Smith's home state of Texas.

Photographer Larry Birkhead hopes DNA taken from Smith will help prove he fathered the former centerfold's 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn, who could inherit millions.

Seidlin has said the dispute could be lengthy. The hearing, which began Wednesday, took all day Thursday and was to continue Friday.

Lawyers for all three took swipes at each other's clients throughout Thursday's hearing in a room jammed with about 50 people. Reporters sat on the floor and atop a credenza, punching away at handheld computers. Courthouse staff struggled to push their way through. There were not enough chairs for all the attorneys.

Lawyers for Stern and Arthur fought Birkhead's attorneys' plea to gather additional DNA from the body of Smith, who died a week earlier, though Seidlin eventually ordered another cheek swab taken. Stern's attorneys called Arthur's move to gain her estranged daughter's remains "sick" and the mother's attorneys charged back that Smith's longtime companion had no rights whatsoever.

The attorneys, at times, buried their faces in their hands. They interrupted Seidlin repeatedly. Some even refused to shake hands.

Unfazed, Seidlin addressed the attorneys as "my good lawyer," or as "California" or "Texas" to note their state. The more tense the mood got, the more steadfastly he sought civility.

"I don't want to attack one another," he said.

It was a milder tone than Seidlin struck as he took over the case Wednesday and declared Smith's corpse would stay refrigerated in the medical examiner's office until he said otherwise.

"This body belongs to me right now," he said then. "This body's not leaving Broward County 'til I make the ruling."

Seidlin ordered the medical examiner's office to swab Smith's cheek, even though DNA samples already had been collected. He said he wanted to make sure her body wouldn't have to be exhumed.

"When we bury her, I want it to be forever," he said.

Smith, 39, died Feb. 8 after collapsing at a Florida hotel.

As the proceedings dragged on, police investigating a burglary report in the Bahamas went into a mansion that Stern and Smith shared. Stern, who was at the mansion with the officers, claims a computer, home videos and other items were taken from the house after Smith's death.

Wayne Munroe, an attorney for Smith's estate, said police took computer hard drives and other items as evidence.

In California, Prince Frederic von Anhalt, the husband of actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, filed legal documents Thursday seeking a DNA test to determine if he fathered the baby. Von Anhalt, who says he is 59, has said he and Smith had a decade-long affair.

"Rest assured, Mr. von Anhalt's motives are pure," said his lawyer, Christopher Fields. "It is simply to accept responsibility as Dannielynn's father if the testing shows that he is."

Smith was the widow of Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, whom she married in 1994 when he was 89 and she was 26. She had been fighting his family over his fortune since his death in 1995.

A judge in the Bahamas issued an injunction Tuesday preventing the baby from being taken out of the country until the custody case is resolved.

Arthur wants to be named guardian of her granddaughter and sought the order because she feared Stern would take the child from the Bahamas, her lawyer said.

Associated Press writers Noaki Schwartz in Los Angeles and Jason Bronis in Nassau, Bahamas, contributed to this report.