THE war is raging on between Anna Nicole Smith’s baby daddy, Larry Birkhead, and his former attorney, Debra Opri, who claims he still owes her a small fortune in legal fees.
Opri has turned down Birkhead’s $300,000 offer to settle her outstanding $1 million-plus legal bill, reports veteran journo Art Harris. And the circumstances surrounding her thumbs down couldn’t be stranger.
As Harris reveals on his The Bald Truth blog at artharris.com, the once-tight pair agreed to discuss settling their financial falling out on neutral turf - a mediation office in Los Angeles specializing “in dicey conflict resolution, from megamillion-dollar Hollywood divorces to business deals gone bust,” Harris reports. “[But they] never saw each other. They sat in separate rooms with their lawyers, coffee and pastries, as a retired LA Superior Court judge shuttled offers and counter offers back and forth for hours.”
Still, no dice.
“The deal would have saved all parties further wrangling over $620,000 in legal fees for representing Birkhead in his quest for custody of baby Dannielynn,” sources told Harris. Birkhead is disputing what he says are pumped-up legal fees, including dry-cleaning bills, expensive meals and at least one trip by Opri to the Bahamas.
His lawyer, Michael Trope, told Page Six: “Larry made a generous offer to settle. It’s not like he was trying to walk away . . . She made a counteroffer, which we elected to decline.” We couldn’t reach Opri, but she confirmed to Harris that negotiations had gone bust, calling her rejection of a settlement a “matter of principle,” although she disputed Harris’ numbers.
Birkhead parted ways with his high-flying attorney last March, moments before he arrived in a Bahamas courtroom to fight Howard K. Stern, Smith’s companion at the time of her death, for custody of Dannielynn. Birkhead eventually won sole custody when it was proven he was the biological father, and he now regularly sells stories and photos of his daughter to make ends meet.
Birkhead and Opri are scheduled to see each other in court again on Feb. 4. Meanwhile, Birkhead and Stern are now friends, sharing in the cash that came along with Dannielynn.