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Rosa Parks' Legacy Stained By Court Feud, Accusations Of Corruption

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.  300px-Rosaparks8

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.

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Rosa Parks' Final Wishes, Ignored for Years, Are Finally Restored

She ranks as one of the greatest civil rights icons of all time, all starting with a seemingly simple act of refusing to move from a bus seat.  Rosa Parks passed away at age 92 in 2005, living in a modest apartment in Detroit, Michigan.  Her estate was modest too. Officially valued at $372, 624 in monetary terms, but of course priceless in terms of memories and historical significance.   Rosa Parks

Her final wishes were not so modest.  She assigned all of her belongings to a charitable institute to “educate and motivate youth and adults, particularly African American persons, for self and community betterment.”   She called this the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development.  She named her close friend, Elaine Steele, along with a retired Detroit judge, to oversee her estate.  She also named Elaine Steele as a prominent beneficiary, including a 90% recipient of royalties, with 10% passing to her nieces and nephews.

But Parks’ many nieces and nephews did not agree with her final will and trust, which were created in July, 1998.  They sued to challenge the estate plan, accusing Steele of using undue influence on Parks.  Steele denied it.  After the case was started, amid claims of mismanagement, the probate judge removed Steele and the other appointed executor and replaced them with two local attorneys.

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Rosa Parks Trust and Estate Tied Up In Lengthy Court Fight

Civil rights icon Rosa Parks passed away at the age of 92 on October 25, 2005, in Detroit, Michigan. Almost six years later, her legacy is still tied up in a lengthy court battle.  The case features allegations of abuse, cronyism and corruption by the probate judge as well as the two lawyers he appointed to oversee the estate and trust.   Rosa Parks bus

It also involves who will receive all of the considerable civil rights memorabilia owned by Rosa Parks when she was alive, and even the rights to use her name and likeness.

Parks' will and trust left the majority of her assets to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, operated by Rosa Parks' longtime friend, Elaine Steele.  Parks and Steele had formed this Institute.  Steele says she was close to Parks for 45 years and that Parks looked at her as the "daughter she never had."

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