MLK daughter's lawyers want estate lawyer removed

ATLANTA (AP) — A lawyer for Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter on Friday argued that a lawyer for her father's estate should be disqualified from participating in a dispute over the ownership of King's Bible and Nobel Peace Prize.

The slain civil rights icon's estate, controlled by his sons, is locked in a legal dispute with his daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, over ownership of the items. The Martin Luther King Jr. Estate Inc., which is run by Martin Luther King III and Dexter Scott King, wants to sell the items, while Bernice is opposed to the sale.

The Bible and peace prize medal are being held in a safe deposit box controlled by the court pending the outcome of the dispute.

Ron Gaither, a lawyer for Bernice, argued William Hill and his law firm should not be involved in the case because he was appointed by a judge to help in a similar 2008 dispute between the King children and the entities they control.

Bernice's lawyers said in a court filing that "Hill played a vital and substantial role in adjudicating a multitude of disputes that arose between the parties." They argued that gives Hill a unique advantage in the current case and puts Bernice at a disadvantage.

Hill said in court Friday that his only responsibility in that matter was to review documents related to Coretta Scott King's estate and that he didn't have access to privileged information. He said after the hearing that the attempt by Bernice's lawyers to disqualify him is a stalling tactic.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said he would issue a ruling on whether Hill should be disqualified very soon.

The lawyers for both sides and the judge agreed that seeking the disqualification of an opponent's lawyers is very unusual and generally not favored in Georgia courts. But in this case, lawyers for both sides have taken that step.

McBurney said he would also schedule a hearing on a motion filed by the estate's lawyers to disqualify Bernice's lawyer Eric Barnum and his firm from the case.

The court filing says Dexter consulted with Barnum over possible legal representation when Harry Belafonte sued King's estate seeking damages and a declaration that the singer was the rightful owner of some papers that had belonged to Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King and that he wanted to auction off.

Ultimately, Barnum did not end up representing the estate, but Hill said Barnum still had privileged conversations with Dexter on the matter, which Hill said should disqualify him.

Hill said the estate had been willing to turn a blind eye to what he said is misconduct by Barnum but that Bernice's lawyers had forced the estate to seek Barnum's disqualification by seeking to disqualify Hill.