After losing Anna Nicole Smith and then a court battle over her estate, Howard K. Stern says a judge's dismissal of convictions in a prescription drug case vindicates both him and the late Playboy model.
"I loved Anna and I cared for her so much. I have no regrets," Stern told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday, hours after the court reversed his two conspiracy convictions for using his name on prescriptions for Smith.
"The regrets I have are for what people caused afterward," he said, referring to multiple legal complications which arose after Smith died of a drug overdose in Florida in February, 2007.
The most agonizing postscript, he said, was the prescription drug abuse charges filed in Los Angeles against Stern, Smith's psychiatrist Dr. Khristine Eroshevich and Dr. Sandeep Kapoor, Smith's general physician. He called the months of trial a nightmare.
It was an ignominious ending for prosecutors who had touted the high-profile case as a way to send a message to physicians who over-prescribe opiates to celebrities.
Prosecutors had argued that Smith was an addict, and the defendants were feeding her addiction rather than providing prescription drugs for any legitimate medical purpose.
But after a long and costly prosecution, Superior Court Judge Robert Perry threw out conspiracy convictions against Stern and Eroshevich on Thursday, allowing one charge against her to remain but reducing it to a misdemeanor. The jury had already acquitted Kapoor of all charges against him.
The judge concluded that Smith was not an addict by legal definition but was rather a woman seeking relief from chronic pain. He said the jury verdicts suggested they agreed.
Perry said Stern clearly did not intend to violate the law when he used his name on drug prescriptions for Smith. The judge said the defendants who used false names for Smith were trying to protect her privacy in a manner used by many celebrities.
Stern praised the ruling as "a huge victory and vindication for Anna and the person she really was, not the person the prosecution tried to portray her as."
He called the case "a dishonest prosecution with no purpose but to ruin our lives and for their publicity and political gain."
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley criticized the judge's decision, saying it "denigrates the substantial investigative efforts conducted by the state Department of Justice and the medical board." He said he would appeal.
Stern attorney Steve Sadow said his strongest and most unusual defense theme was love.
He told jurors that Smith was the love of Stern's life and he would never have done anything to hurt her.
He said prosecutors at times portrayed Stern as a Svengali trying to control Smith for money, a claim he said was false.
"The love was a fact," Sadow said. "It was the truth and all I had to do was sell the true facts to the jury. They had to understand the relationship between Howard and Anna rather than the false and fictitious relationship the prosecution tried to sell. And of course we had the pictures."
Sadow said the turning point in the trial came when the prosecution imported two nannies from the Bahamas who testified that Smith was in a drugged, semi-comatose state for weeks after the birth of her child and accused Stern of keeping her drugged.
The defense then produced dozens of dazzling photographs of the blonde beauty from the same time period, showing her vibrant and smiling, cuddling her baby, posing with Stern, celebrating her birthday and participating in their commitment ceremony on a yacht.
Stern said he sometimes marvels at the turn of fate that led him to Smith and the love story that consumed his life. He was her lawyer first and then her lover.
"Back then could I ever have anticipated where I am now? Not in a million years," he said.
At 41, he said he has not had time to evaluate his future or to mourn for his lost love.
He said a bright light in his life is Smith's daughter, Dannielynn, who he once thought was his. She is being raised by her father, photographer Larry Birkhead.
He said he and Birkhead, who once fought in court, are now working together on Smith's estate and Birkhead will probably become its sole administrator.
He said he will have visits with Dannielynn and hopes to tell her about her mother.
"She just reminds me of her mom," he said of the 4-year-old child. "She's a junior version of Anna. Larry is doing a great job with her. She's the happiest little girl you'll ever see."