Estate of Denial:  The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered a judge to return the estate of civil rights icon Rosa Parks to her longtime friend Elaine Steele and the institute the two women founded in 1987 to carry on Parks’ legacy.

 In a tersely worded order Thursday, the high court said Wayne County Probate Judge Freddie Burton Jr. and the Michigan Court of Appeals wrongly stripped Steele and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development of their financial stake in Parks’ estate.

 The Supreme Court said Steven Cohen, the lawyer for Steele and the institute, did not divulge details of a 2007 confidentiality agreement that resolved an estate dispute involving the institute, Steele and Parks’ 13 nieces and nephews.

Cohen said Thursday’s decision is a significant victory for his clients.

“They are thrilled and gratified that Rosa Parks’ wishes are finally being honored,” he said.

He said the order requires Burton to return all of his clients’ property and, within 30 days, to remove attorneys John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr., whom Burton put in charge of the estate after Parks died in 2005. They are to be replaced with Steele and retired 36th District Judge Adam Shakoor, whom Parks had designated to handle her estate. Steele is Parks’ longtime friend, assistant and caregiver.

Alan May, who represents Chase and Jefferson, said Friday that he wasn’t aware of Thursday’s decision and needed time to review it. Lawrence Pepper, who represents Parks’ nieces and nephews, agreed.

“We need some time to sort things out and look at this order,” Pepper said, adding that he doesn’t know how realistic it will be for Burton to undo nearly five years of probate court rulings in the case. “Accounts have been allowed and other things have occurred. I just don’t know where this is going,” he said.

After Parks died in 2005, her nieces and nephews challenged her will and trust. In 2007, the institute, Steele and the relatives signed a confidential settlement agreement that resolved the dispute. By then, Burton had appointed Chase and Jefferson to handle the estate in place of Steele and Shakoor.

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