ATLANTA — Martin Luther King Jr.'s Bible and Nobel Peace Prize should be placed in a safe deposit box controlled by the court pending the outcome of a legal dispute over who owns the items, a judge said Wednesday.
The dispute marks the latest in a string of legal battles between the siblings.
The civil rights icon's estate is controlled by his two sons, Martin Luther King III and Dexter King. Lawyers for the estate on Jan. 31 filed a complaint asking a judge to order that their sister, Bernice King, turn over the two prized items.
After about two and half hours of arguments from lawyers for both sides, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said he believes it is likely that the estate will prevail in the case. He said he would issue an order that both items be kept together in a safe deposit box in the name of the estate but that the keys would remain with the court until the ownership dispute before him is settled.
"I find that, at this point, that is a fair, equitable balance of the competing interests," McBurney said.
Lawyers for both sides said after the hearing that they felt the judge's temporary solution was fair.
William Hill, a lawyer for the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc., said the bible and peace prize medal belong to the state under a 1995 agreement in which King's heirs signed over their rights to many items they inherited from him. Eric Barnum, a lawyer for Bernice, said his client doesn't believe those items are part of the estate and doesn't believe her father's most cherished possessions should be sold.
The three surviving King children are all board members of the estate, and they held a special board meeting in late January to vote on a proposed sale of the bible and peace prize, Hill said in court. They voted 2-1 in favor of the sale, with Bernice being the dissenting vote, Hill said.