Martin Luther King III and Bernice King want to hold board meeting on ‘global resolution’ of their differences

By Maria Saporta

Martin Luther King III and his sister, Bernice King, would like to reach a “global resolution” to settle all legal disputes between each other and their brother, Dexter King.

But so far, Dexter King has managed to prevent the three living children of Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr. from holding a board meeting of the King Estate to consider an out-of-court settlement.

But those legal maneuvers to prevent a meeting from taking place could end on Tuesday when attorneys for the King Center will ask Fulton County Superior Court Judge Todd Markle to lift a “Temporary Restraining Order” preventing the siblings from meeting to consider an out-of-court settlement.

Markle is one of two Fulton County Superior Court judges currently hearing cases involving the King children. The case of the private, for-profit King Estate Inc. versus the nonprofit King Center is being heard in his court.

Judge Robert McBurney is hearing a separate case — the King Estate versus Bernice King — over the ownership of the Nobel Peace Prize Medal and the civil rights leader’s traveling Bible.

Complicating matters is that the three King children each serve on the boards of both the King Estate and the King Center, and they hold various officer positions with both entities.

For example – and a critical point related to a possible resolution of all the legal issues, Martin III is chairman of the King Estate’s board — which gives him the power to call a special meeting of that board.

He called for a special board meeting be held on Jan. 7, and notices were served to his siblings on Jan. 6.

“I want to settle the litigation between the Estate and the King Center and I called the January 7th special meeting to seek approval from the Estate Board of general terms of settlement,” Martin Luther King III stated in an affidavit filed in court on Jan. 16. “Indeed, I called the meeting to reach a global resolution of all pending litigation, which would allow the King Center to flourish and would allow the public, once and for all, to view my father’s Nobel Peace Prize and Bible and appreciate what they represent.”

But the meeting never took place because Attorney William Hill Jr., who said he was representing the King Estate Inc., filed and received a TRO from Judge Markle.

In his affidavit, Martin III said he did not authorize Hill to file an emergency TRO motion. Also Martin III’s attorney William Wachtel advised Hill to let the judge know of Martin’s objection, which did not happen.

Meanwhile Judge McBurney dissolved the emergency TRO in his case stating the board was free to discuss whatever they wish in connection with this case.

“Settlement is to be encouraged in any case – this one in particular,” McBurney wrote in his order addressing the TRO. “It is hard to fathom how the important legacy that the competing parties claim to be seeking to protect will be well-served by yet another very public airing of the disputes and squabbles that have sadly divided the King family in recent years.”

What is significant with these latest developments is that it appears as though Martin III has distanced himself from Dexter (the two had been the majority in the King Estate cases against Bernice and the King Estate).

No matter what, Martin III seems dedicated to finding a lasting resolution to the siblings legal disputes — if they are allowed to meet and talk about the global principles that could permanently settle their differences.

On Tuesday, Judge Markley will hear arguments from the attorneys for the King Center, Martin III and Bernice King to dissolve the TRO. That would permit Martin III to call a board meeting of the King Estate.

The King Estate has three shareholders – Dexter, Martin and Bernice, who elect the three directors: Dexter Martin and Bernice. Those three have equally-weighted votes. The directors select the Estate’s officers. Dexter serves as the Estate’s CEO. Presumably he could be removed by a vote of the majority of the board.

Eric Barnum, an attorney with SchiffHardin, who is representing Bernice King said the three sibling all have dual roles with the King Estate and the King Center. Dexter serves as both CEO of the Estate and COO of the King Center.

“The bylaws (of the Estate( allow for the chairman to call a meeting,” Barnum said. “The bylaws also allow for the board of directors to vote on any issue pertinent to the corporation.”

Barnum said that to suggest that there is a conflict of interest before a resolution has even been presented to the board is not giving the directors an opportunity settle the cases in good faith.

If a “global resolution” is not reached by the siblings, then the case of King Estate versus the King Center is supposed to go to trial on Jan. 26.

The other case, the one involving the Bible and the Nobel Peace Prize, would go to trial no earlier than Feb. 23.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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