Fighting over estates is never pretty. These court battles are emotional, draining, and sometimes downright nasty for everyone involved. When they happen to the estate of a beloved American icon, it’s even more tragic.
Rosa Parks’ Estate has been embroiled in fighting since not long after she died on October 24, 2005 at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan. You can read about the long history of the court battle, which we summarized in this Trial & Heirs article. In short, the Michigan Supreme Court restored the rights of the primary beneficiaries to Rosa Parks’ estate plan, years after the probate court judge ordered that their rights had been forfeited. Finally, it seemed that the fighting had reached its end.
Instead, the battle actually turned uglier than before. The attorney representing those beneficiaries who rights were recently restored — Rosa Parks’ friend Elaine Steele and the charitable institute that Rosa Parks had created, which Steele operates — went on the attack again. He took the highly-unusual step of suing the probate judge who oversees the Rosa Parks Estate, Hon. Freddie Burton, and the two lawyers whom the Judge had appointed to administer the Estate, John Chase, Jr. and Melvin Jefferson.
In doing so, Steele’s attorney accused them of cronyism, corruption, over-charging the Estate and more. The attorney issued a press release about it and the allegations received widespread press coverage nationally, including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ABC News, and many others. Steele’s attorney went on a Detroit-area radio show and openly discussed how he felt that Judge Burton, Chase and Jefferson were corrupt and engaged in a conspiracy. He even said he believed the Judge was taking bribes. The attorney promised to have Judge Burton removed from the case and accused him of refusing to “give up his corrupt ways.”
Judge Burton dismissed the allegations Steele’s attorney raised and refused to step down from the case. His decision not to disqualify himself was upheld by the chief judge of the Wayne County Probate Court. Steele appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal. Steele will likely appeal again.