Six years after her death, the memorabilia collection of civil rights icon Rosa Parks - medals, papers, even the hat she wore on her historic bus ride - is in the hands of a New York auction house, its ownership in limbo, with a value once pegged at $10 million.
Her estate, with a cash value of $372,000 at the time of her death, is mostly gone - eaten up by lawyer's fees.
The financial portrait of Parks' estate, which has been kept under seal since her death, is outlined in a new Michigan Supreme Court filing that offers the first detailed glimpse into a long-running feud over distribution of her assets.
The legal filing contends that Wayne County Probate Judge Freddie Burton allowed two court-appointed attorneys, John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr., to pile up excessive fees that drained nearly $243,000 from the estate, or about two-thirds of the cash value.
After the money was gone, the filing charges, the lawyers persuaded Burton to award them Parks' vast memorabilia collection and the rights to license her name, which Parks had given to her Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development long before she died.
Steven Cohen, who represents Elaine Steele and the institute in the probate case, filed the request Tuesday, asking the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision that stood behind Burton's handling of the case and accused the judge of overstepping his bounds by arbitrarily appointing Chase and Jefferson as fiduciaries when the lawyers were not previously involved in the case.
"Since Mrs. Parks' death in 2005, the court system of her adopted city has embarked on a course to destroy her legacy, bankrupt her institute, shred her estate plan and steal her very name," Cohen said in the filing. Cohen wants the institute and Steele to get the property back.
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Lawyer: Rosa Parks Estate Was Drained