Image: Civil rights heroine Rosa Parks
Paul J. Richards  /  AFP/Getty Images
Civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.
msnbc.com
updated 7/22/2011 1:03:24 AM ET 2011-07-22T05:03:24

A lawyer embroiled in a legal battle over the estate of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks claims two lawyers have nearly depleted her assets and demands that her property be pulled from a New York auction house.

In a recent filing with the Michigan Supreme Court, Detroit lawyer Steven Cohen has asked the state's high court to review the NAACP activist's case and return Parks' estate to her institute, The Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday.

In court documents, he charges "cronyism and corruption" while lawyers appointed to oversee her estate claim they were doing their job to protect Parks' interest and boost the value of her property.

Cohen claims lawyers, John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr., were paid $243,000 in legal fees, nearly two-thirds the cash value of Parks' estate.

Cohen represents Parks caretaker Elaine Steele and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development.

The case has been tied up in the courts since the activist died in 2005. She was 92.

"Since Mrs. Parks' death in 2005 ... the court system of her adopted city has embarked on a course to destroy her legacy, bankrupt her institute, shred her estate plan and steal her very name," Cohen said in the court filing.

"Court cronies named John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr. ... used their court appointment to create make-work projects and overcharge the estate for a large amount of unnecessary administrative 'work'," according to the document.

Chase fired back, dismissing Cohen's claims on Thursday afternoon.

"We have worked very hard to protect the hard work that Rosa Parks has done for the public," Chase said. "Everything that we have done has been done with court approval."

Cohen could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Meanwhile, Parks' memorabilia — including the hat she wore on her historic bus ride in 1955 — is at an auction house in New York.

Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey's Auctioneers, told the Detroit newspaper that the auction house wants to sell Parks' entire collection — presidential medals, certificates, pictures and the iconic hat — to an institution.

Chase said the memorabilia would be sold to a suitable buyer if they were to use it to educate and inspire future generations.

Parks was a seamstress in segregated Montgomery whose arrest led to a tide-turning bus boycott. On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man. She and her husband, Raymond, who worked as a barber, later resettled in Detroit.

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