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Farmington Hills lawyer does battle
over Rosa Parks' estate.
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20 August 4 2011
s two sides battle it out over
the late civil rights pioneer
Rosa Parks' estate, lawyer
Steven G. Cohen is at the center of it.
Cohen, of Cohen & Associates P.C.
in Farmington Hills, is representing
the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute
for Self Development and Elaine Steele,
longtime friend of Parks, in their dispute
with estate fiduciaries John Chase Jr.
and Melvin Jefferson Jr. over the alleged
depletion of Parks' estate and who has
the right to her memorabilia.
Cohen first became involved with the
institute late in 2007 when he was asked to
handle an appeal against the $100,000
awarded in fees to attorneys Chase and
Jefferson, fiduciaries of the Parks' estate
appointed by Wayne County Probate Judge
Freddie Burton Jr. Chase and Jefferson have
been awarded in total $243,000 in fees.
As part of the fee payment, Burton
ordered the educational institute, started
by Parks and Steele in 1987, to give to
Chase and Jefferson its intellectual prop-
erty and memorabilia collection, both
given to the institute by Parks before she
died. This loss of the intellectual prop-
erty and memorabilia collection inhibits
the institute's ability to finance its pro-
grams, Cohen said.
The institute and Steele felt that the
fees were awarded for insubstantial and
unnecessary work, and Cohen contends
that Chase and Jefferson are now taking
property that was not originally part of
the Parks estate.
"It's unimaginable how outrageous
that is, for fiduciaries to actually reach
into the pockets of the beneficiaries for
their own money,' Cohen said."That's
the exact opposite of what fiduciaries are
appointed to do."
The Michigan Court of Appeals, how-
ever, in 2009 and again this year, agreed
with the rulings of the probate court in
favor of Chase and Jefferson. The appel-
late court in 2009 noted the pair had
recognized the enhanced value of the
intellectual property and memorabilia
of Rosa Parks, thus increasing the value
of her estate "possibly by tenfold."
Cohen is now asking the Michigan
Supreme Court to consider taking his
The case goes further than the money
and property issue, claims Cohen,
who argues that over the past three to
four years, judgments have been made
against the institute and Steele without
"All these things happened: the attor-
ney fees, the judgment, the forfeiture of
intellectual property and memorabilia,
all without a single trial, without a single
witness called, without a single piece of
evidence being submitted:' Cohen said.
Tradition Of Civil Rights
As a Jew, Cohen feels an even stronger
connection to this case beyond the
relationships he has formed with the
institute and Steele after working with
them for so many years.
"Jewish people were a very big part
of the civil rights fight of the 1960s,
before and since Cohen said. "Jewish
people have always aligned themselves
with those who were unfortunate or
disadvantaged. They have aligned
themselves consistently with the
African American community and
their civil rights struggle because the
Jews faced the same problems.
"Historically, I feel a connection to
the civil rights struggle. The Jewish
people stood beside Parks throughout
the struggle and, even when she got
older, the Jewish people were beside her
to assist her, providing aid. I'm proud
of that. I feel that by the probate court
taking advantage of her, it is an affront
to African Americans, to Jewish people,
and it should be an affront to every per-
son that believes in fairness."
Currently, the Michigan Supreme
Court is waiting on Chase and Jefferson's
response brief, which is due on Aug. 9.
After that, the court will start its analysis
of the case and decide whether it will
take up the appeal. In the meantime,
Cohen, the institute and Steele can only
wait and see what happens. II