Trusts & Estates

Lawsuit says former lawyer for Rosa Parks mishandled her estate

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A former lawyer for civil rights leader Rosa Parks is being sued by a New York auction house, the New York Post reported Tuesday.

Guernsey’s alleges that Detroit attorney Gregory Reed mishandled the estate, worth an estimated $10 million. As a result, it charges, it missed an opportunity to collect higher fees.

Parks died in 2005 at the age of 92. She left behind items of historic value, including a postcard from Martin Luther King Jr. and a Congressional Gold Medal.

Reed had represented Parks in her lawsuit against the hip-hop duo Outkast, alleging defamation and trademark infringement because they had used her name without permission as the title of a single. That suit ultimately settled in 2005.

In its lawsuit, Guernsey’s claims that Reed misrepresented his “ability to secure the assignment of the estate of Rosa Parks for auction.” Her heirs declined to allow an auction, the Post says, and instead insisted on a private sale to a single buyer. That sale, to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, was completed in August for $4.5 million. Howard Buffett, who is the son of billionaire Warren Buffett, says the items will be donated to a museum.

Guernsey’s says it could have gotten much more if the items had gone to individual auctions, which would also have been less time-consuming for its staff. It also took issue with Reed’s claim for a cut of the proceeds.

Reed declined to comment to the Post.

This is far from the first court case revolving around the estate of Rosa Parks. The Detroit Free Press said in August that Parks stipulated in her will that her belongings should go to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, but her heirs challenged that will, sending the issue to court for many years.

The Institute alleged in 2012 that a probate judge appointed two of his “cronies” to work on the estate, conspiring to drain the estate with inflated legal fees. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on this in February, ordering that the Institute’s lawyer pay actual and punitive damages as well as attorney fees for filing vexatious appeals, the Detroit Free Press reported at the time.

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