Detroit — Rosa Parks’ lawyer avoided jail Tuesday and received three more weeks to turn over a missing treasure trove of civil rights, Motown and African American objects.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Marci McIvor made the decision during a tense meeting with bankruptcy officials who accused Detroit lawyer Gregory Reed of failing to surrender historically significant assets as ordered in his long-running bankruptcy case. The court hearing in downtown Detroit came hours after The Detroit News chronicled the legal fight over the missing items.
McIvor wants lawyers for bankruptcy trustee Kenneth Nathan to determine the value of the approximately 135 missing items, which include Parks’ key to the city of Detroit, iron slave shackles, a first-edition autographed copy of educator Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography “Up From Slavery” and gold records awarded to Motown stars.
The judge is concerned about risings costs in the three-year-old bankruptcy case, which are eating into money available for creditors. McIvor also wants to ensure the missing items are valuable.
“I am not going to impose the Draconian result of sending Mr. Reed to jail until I have a better idea of what is going on in terms of the value” of the missing items, the judge said.
Legal fees in the case are about $400,000 but creditors have received only $75,000, the judge said.
“At this point, creditors need to start getting paid,” the judge said.
The trustee’s lawyer, Erica Ehrlichman, said the items are worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars” but will have an estimate prepared in coming weeks. An auctioneer is interested in one missing letter written by Parks that could fetch more than $100,000, Ehrlichman said.
The iron shackles and Washington autobiography also are valuable, the lawyer said.
Reed, 69, was ordered to surrender the items two years ago to satisfy creditors but lawyers discovered the property was missing from Reed’s home in Indian Village during a July visit.
On Tuesday, the judge pressed Reed about the missing items, particularly the Washington autobiography.
“Where is that?” the judge said.
“It’s in the (home) library,” Reed said.
“You’re willing to turn it over?” the judge said.
“It was there,” Reed said.
“I don’t care,” the judge said. “Will you turn it over?”
“I will,” Reed said, “if I can find it.”
“If it’s in your house, you find it,” the judge said. “It didn’t fly away. I feel like I’m in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’
“Is it in your house?” the judge asked.
“It should have been there,” Reed said.
“That’s not an answer,” the judge said. “Is it in your house?”
“I don’t know,” Reed said.
Reed suggested bankruptcy officials overlooked the items during the July visit to his house.
“You didn’t turn it over,” the judge said. “It wasn’t their obligation to ransack the house. I don’t find it credible that they would have missed a Booker T. Washington book they were looking for.”
Reed told bankruptcy officials he was not willing to surrender the manuscript of a Parks book he wrote with the civil rights icon in the 1990s.
“You’ve made those arguments over and over again,” the judge said, “and you’ve lost.”