Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Detroit Probate Judge May Shutdown the Rosa Parks Institute Over a Dispute Involving Her Estate

Judge may shut Parks' nonprofit

Ruling on institute's record-keeping could freeze its funds, force it to close temporarily.

Ronald J. Hansen / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- Rosa Parks' nonprofit organization could have to close at least temporarily if a judge this week completely freezes the funding it expects to draw from a licensing agreement negotiated while her estate remains unsettled.

In a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Wayne County Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr. will consider extending a restraining order that would block future deals and funds for the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, in part because of concerns with how the organization and those close to Parks are maintaining records.

During a hearing last week, Edward Hudson, a lawyer for the institute, said the organization's continued operations depend on an April contract with CMG Worldwide, an Indianapolis-based firm that markets dead celebrities.

Without the deal, he said, "We wouldn't be able to fund any current programs."

Burton said he didn't want to shut down the institute, and would consider allowing some funds transferred to keep it open.

The value of the contract wasn't disclosed, but an independent trustee of Parks' estate pointed out the institute's budget jumped from about $100,000 last year to $3 million this year. The institute negotiated the CMG contract even as Parks' nieces and nephews have sued to overturn her will and control her legacy in the future.

Frederick M. Toca, a lawyer for the relatives, complained that the institute kept the deal secret, along with other financial records that were only turned over last week after Burton ordered they be shared.

It is part of an overall campaign of deception, Toca said, involving Elaine Steele, Parks' longtime friend and a key official for the institute.

In sworn testimony, Steele has told lawyers that the disputed 1998 will itself was stolen, though she didn't alert police about it, Toca said.

Also, the Presidential Medal of Freedom Parks received in 1999 from President Clinton was missing earlier this year when a New York auction house was cataloging her estate. The medal turned up only after Burton demanded it, Toca said.

"What can I say when something that valuable goes missing?" Toca said.

Lauren Underwood, Steele's attorney, said the medal wasn't where officials expected to find it, but that it and other items in Parks' estate are not lost. "The institute will be completely transparent in its dealings," she said.

Steele has denied claims that she controlled Parks and maintains that it isn't surprising she left her estate to the institute she founded.

You can reach Ronald J. Hansen at (313) 222-2019 or rhansen@detnews.com.

No comments: