19 May 2012. Lawyer Stephen G. Cohen, in a highly unusual move, is suing a Wayne County probate judge and two court-appointed lawyers, accusing them of looting the estate of the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks.
Lawyer Stephen G. Cohen said in court papers that Judge Freddie Burton Jr. conspired with probate lawyers John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr., enabling the pair to rack up more than $507,000 in mostly unnecessary legal fees that drained Parks’ estate of its cash, leaving it $88,000 in debt.
Cohen also said Burton, through secret hearings and improper rulings, allowed the pair to concoct a bogus breach of confidentiality dispute.
Cohen said the judge used the dispute to strip Elaine Steele and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute that she created with Parks of their share of Parks’ property, said to be worth up to $8 million.
“Chase and Jefferson, together with Judge Burton, illegally, maliciously and wrongfully conspired … for the illegal purpose of raiding Mrs. Parks’ estate of its value,” Cohen said in a 38-page probate petition.
He requested a jury trial in probate court and asked Burton to remove himself from presiding over Parks’ estate.
Probate experts predicted Cohen’s move would fail.
Cohen said he also wants Burton, Chase and Jefferson to restore all the money to the estate.
If Burton refuses to recuse himself, Cohen could appeal the decision to Chief Wayne County Probate Judge Milton Mack Jr., to Wayne County Circuit Court and then to state appellate courts.
Parks’ estate plan called for Steele and retired 36th District Judge Adam Shakoor to handle the estate. But that didn’t happen.
After Parks’ 13 nieces and nephews contested her estate plan, Burton appointed Chase and Jefferson to take charge.
Although the agreement called for Burton to put Steele and Shakoor back in charge of the estate, Cohen said Burton refused, allowing Chase and Jefferson to continue to run up huge legal bills.