Adam Shakoor, Elaine Steele
Paul Sancya  /  AP file
Adam Shakoor, left, and Elaine Steele, talk after a probate court hearing in Detroit, in this Dec. 14 photo. Members of Rosa Parks’ family say Steele exerted undue influence over Parks, and that Steele and Shakoor, a retired Detroit judge, Adam Shakoor have misused Parks' name.
updated 5/9/2006 7:08:47 PM ET 2006-05-09T23:08:47

Two groups fighting over the estate of Rosa Parks agreed Tuesday to submit the dispute to mediation in hopes of avoiding a trial.

Family members have been feuding for years with the people Parks appointed to handle her affairs. Last week, they filed a legal challenge over the will of the civil rights pioneer, who died in October at 92.

Frederick Toca, a lawyer for the family members, said he was confident his clients would win at trial, but he preferred to resolve the dispute out of court.

“Everyone seems committed to sitting down and trying to preserve the legacy,” he said after a meeting with a probate judge.

Jon Gandelot, an attorney for the other side, said: “I think we’re on the right track to try to resolve something.”

Retired Judge Adam Shakoor will be the mediator, even though he is closely involved in the case as one of two people appointed by Parks to handle her estate.

Legal proceedings started last year
Parks’ family members started legal proceedings in December for control of the legal rights to use Parks’ name, photos and other yet-to-be-determined intellectual property. Relatives have said they would probably use the rights in a limited way to benefit nonprofit organizations such as libraries or arts centers.

The family members are all sons and daughters of Parks’ brother, Sylvester. They say Parks’ will should be thrown out because her longtime friend Elaine Steele exerted undue influence over her.

The main beneficiary of the will is the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, a Detroit-based organization founded by Parks to teach young people leadership and character development. Steele is the institute’s vice president.

The family has objected to certain actions Steele and Shakoor took on behalf of their aunt after she gave them control of her affairs, about the same time she began suffering from dementia.

For instance, family members complained when Parks’ representatives sued the hip-hop duo OutKast and its record company for $5 billion for using Parks’ name in a song. Parks, the family members said, would never have sued for so much money.

Shakoor has said they sued OutKast because the song’s lyrics were derisive toward women. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

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