Happy MLK Day (no copyright infringement intended)

This just in: The Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. Inc. just withdrew a lawsuit against The Weinstein Company for distributing “The King’s Speech” after realizing the movie was about a different King.

Before the King family’s very active legal team shifts into overdrive, I wish to stipulate that the previous paragraph, while not strictly true (as far as I know), falls into the category (I think) of constitutionally protected satire. I would add that there is not a deep pocket to be found among The Bill Torpy at Large Enterprises Corp., its board of directors, and/or its CEO, which is no doubt my wife.

The King kids are at it again, and the public tsk-tsking about their crass, avaricious ways is at full tilt. The family’s latest excursion to the Fulton County Courthouse came just in time for this year’s Martin Luther King Day celebrations.

The issue at hand is ownership of MLK’s well-worn Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize and, ultimately, whether they should ever be sold.

King’s three surviving children (news stories will forever refer to them as such) are split as to whether they own the items as human beings or as a corporation. This time, it’s boys against the girl, with Dexter and MLK III trying to retrieve the valuable keepsakes from sister Bernice, who was ordered by the judge to put the items in a safe deposit box until the matter is settled.

That’s probably a good thing, because appraisers told the Associated Press the medal should fetch $5 million to $10 million based on the sale of other Nobel medals. The Bible could bring $1 million. One appraiser said the price could double if the Kings went through a private sale. God knows what a fabulously wealthy Russian oligarch might pay.

If the corporation has ownership, as the brothers assert, they can out-vote their sister (as they’ve already done) and sell the goodies. But if ownership rests with the three as individuals, as Bernice claims, the dispute between them might scare off potential brokers and buyers.

The Kings, and by that I mean the corporation, made $32 million in 2006 when they (or it) put King’s historic papers up for auction. Atlantans were horrified at the thought of the collection going anywhere other than the Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, so civic heavies hurriedly banded together under the urging of Mayor Shirley Franklin to raise the cash needed keep the papers at Morehouse College. Three years later, the private fund-raising effort to pay off the debt lagged in the midst of the recession, so the city sucked it up and paid the remaining third of the bill.

It’s not clear how much each surviving King received, although Dexter got a 30 percent commission for brokering the deal. That’s according to testimony in 2009 during another intra-family legal squabble. That time it was Bernice and III against Dexter.

The corporation reaped another windfall from the construction of the MLK Memorial on the National Mall, not far from the Lincoln Memorial where King gave his famous “I Had a Vision While Sleeping” speech. (I’m choosing the course here taken by the makers of the movie “Selma,” who, in order to avoid negotiating copyright issues with the King estate, rewrote the famous man’s speeches.)

According to the AP, the builders of the King monument paid $761,000 in 2007 to an entity run by the Kings. Another $71,700 was earlier paid to the estate as a “management” fee.

A couple years ago, as the three siblings gathered on the National Mall to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, lawyers for the brothers were filing suit against their sister, calling for her removal as CEO of the King Center.

My colleague Ernie Suggs, who covers the Kings for the AJC, wrote: “In suing the center, the brothers are filing suit against a nonprofit whose board they are members of.” And, he might have added, a center founded by their mother.

Later, Ernie wrote: “This is the third public dust-up in five years. In 2008, Bernice King and King III took Dexter King to court over how he was handling the family fortune. In 2012, when Bernice King took over the King Center, it was she and Dexter King who deposed King III, who had been serving as president and CEO.”

In a way, the lawsuits are like pick-up basketball games, with sides to be chosen anew for each contest.

This week, with the King holiday in mind, I paid a visit to Judge Robert McBurney’s courtroom in Fulton County. Then I saw “Selma,” the unauthorized, yet very powerful MLK biopic. It started with a scene of the civil rights leader winning the Nobel Prize, an award he presumably never dreamed might one day fetch $20 million on the open market.

The movie had soaring (if historically inaccurate) rhetoric, heroic acts and the victory of our better selves over vicious bigotry. The court hearing had two sides mud-wrestling over property law.

III’s lawyer called for a board of directors meeting of the King estate (that is, a meeting of the siblings) this month to try to work out a deal as normal people might. But Dexter’s lawyer squashed that by filing a restraining order in which Dexter branded Bernice a “conflicted director.”

Judge McBurney, who handled the tangled mess with doses of humor while moving it along as best he could, said he had no problem with the siblings working it out somehow. No problem at all.

Dexter, who had flown in for the hearing from his home in California, was the only one of the siblings present. Speaking to a scrum of reporters outside the courtroom, he said he still loves his conflicted director, adding that this is all just “business.”

When asked, he declined to say if the Bible or Nobel Prize would ever go on the auction block.

As for when he last talked with his siblings, Dexter said he was unsure. He was probably being truthful.

And then he flew back out of town, his siblings apparently unaware of his visit until they caught him on the evening news.