Attorney asks Michigan Supreme Court to remove judge in Rosa Parks estate case

A lawyer in the legal battle over Rosa Parks’ estate has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to remove the probate judge presiding over the dispute.

Attorney Steven Cohen made the request Monday, accusing Wayne County Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr. of trying to do an end-run around the high court’s Dec. 29 order requiring Burton to put Elaine Steele and Adam Shakoor back in charge of the estate.

They would replace the lawyers Burton put in charge — John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr. Steele was Parks’ assistant and caregiver. Shakoor is a retired 36th District Court judge. Both were selected by Parks to handle her estate.

Cohen said Burton sent a letter to the Supreme Court without his knowledge Jan. 13, falsely accusing him and Steele of misconduct in the case.

“Judge Burton’s refusal to implement this court’s straightforward fiduciary removal order is only the tip of the iceberg,” Cohen said in a letter to the high court. “He clearly will not, in good faith, implement any part of the reversal order.”

Burton couldn’t be reached Monday. Alan May, who represents Chase and Jefferson, said he was unaware of Burton’s letter.

Cohen and May are to appear before Burton on Wednesday to carry out the Supreme Court’s order.

In the letter, Burton told the justices that putting Steele back in charge would be unwise because she had routinely ignored his orders in the case, resisted efforts to inventory Parks’ assets and failed to file complete financial statements. He also said Cohen may be involved in a conflict of interest because he stands to receive 30% of the proceeds from licensing Parks’ image and likeness.

Cohen said the accusations are untrue.

Parks sparked the modern civil rights movement in 1955 by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus.

She died in 2005, leaving most of her estate to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development that she created with Steele.

After Parks’ relatives challenged her estate plan, Burton replaced Steele and Shakoor with Chase and Jefferson.

Cohen asked the Supreme Court to intervene saying Chase and Jefferson drained the estate of nearly $243,000, then manufactured a phony dispute that Burton used to order the Institute and Steele to forfeit their share of Parks’ vast memorabilia collection, potentially worth $8 million. Burton said in court documents that he planned to give the forfeited share to a charity of his choice.

Cohen said Burton has conducted most of the proceedings in secret. Chase and Jefferson have denied any wrongdoing, noting that the Michigan Court of Appeals had praised their work on behalf of the estate.


Attorney asks Michigan Supreme Court to remove judge in Rosa Parks estate case
David Ashenfelter
January 24, 2012
Detroit Free Press