Rosa Parks’ relatives ask judge to protect property claim (MI)


The battle over the estate of late civil rights icon Rosa Parks resumes today in Wayne County Probate Court.

A lawyer for Parks’ 15 nieces and nephews has asked Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr. to require Elaine Steele and Adam Shakoor — whom Burton recently put back in charge of the estate — to post an $8-million surety bond to protect Parks’ relatives against any misconduct.

“Due to the continuing litigation and the history of this case … the heirs are apprehensive that the fair, true and just administration of this estate and trust may be compromised in a manner that will be detrimental to their interests,” their lawyer, Lawrence Pepper, said in a court filing.

Pepper said Parks’ relatives fear that Steele and Shakoor might dispose of Parks’ valuable property without their consent. Steele was Parks’ assistant and caregiver, and Shakoor is a retired 36th District Court judge.

Steele’s lawyer, Steven G. Cohen, urged Burton to reject the request. Cohen said Pepper intentionally overstated the value of Parks’ possessions “in order to set an artificially high bond that will be extraordinarily difficult if not impossible for Steele and Shakoor to obtain.”

Cohen said Steele and the institute she created with Parks — not the relatives — own Parks’ possessions and intellectual property rights because Parks bequeathed it to them outside her will and trust. But because of a settlement agreement with the relatives, he said Steele and Shakoor can’t dispose of any of the property without a vote of a three-member marketing committee consisting of Steele, Pepper and a court representative.

The dispute is the latest twist in a legal brawl that began when Parks’ relatives challenged her will and trust after she died in 2005.

Though Parks picked Steele and Shakoor to handle her estate, Parks’ relatives accused Steele of manipulating their aunt to cut them out of a share.

Steele and Shakoor stepped aside, and Burton replaced them with two probate lawyers who hired a New York auction house to collect Parks’ belongings for eventual sale.

The auction house said the property is worth $8 million to $10 million, but it hasn’t found a buyer.

In 2007, the parties signed a legal agreement calling for Steele and the institute to receive 80% of the net proceeds from the sale of Parks’ possessions and royalties from licensing her name. The relatives are to get 20%.

The agreement called for Burton to put Steele and Shakoor back in charge of the estate, but Burton refused until February — after the Michigan Supreme Court twice ordered him to do so.


Rosa Parks’ relatives ask judge to protect property claim
David Ashenfelter
March 21, 2012
Detroit Free Press