Dexter King (seated) greets Martin Luther King III (center) as sister, Bernice King looks on after arriving in court Monday morning.
Photo: John Spink
Photo: John Spink

King siblings reach settlement

The children of Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday avoided a jury trial and settled their festering legal feud over control of the civil rights icon’s estate.

Following the order of Fulton County Superior Judge Ural D. Glanville, Martin Luther King III and Bernice King met with their brother, Dexter King, for close to 15 hours Monday to hash out a deal. Judge Glanville announced the settlement after 11:30 p.m.

"The settlement is very positive overall," said Martin Luther King III. "Our objective is to be involved in protecting the legacy."

Under the settlement, a third-party custodian will be brought in temporarily to run King Inc., the corporation that controls the use of their father’s papers, intellectual property and materials. The move effectively pushes aside Dexter King, who now serves as president of King Inc.

“This agreement calls for a custodian to help manage our family business,” said Dexter King. “I am still the president of the corporation, as I am sure there will be a learning curve. But the most important thing is preserving the legacy of our parents.”

Later, outside the Fulton County Courthouse, Bernice and Martin King III said the results of the settlement were positive.

“Our hope is that we move in a direction of all of us being able to move forward in the governance of the corporation,” Bernice King said.

The King siblings spent all day Monday – from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. – locked away working on a deal.

The appointment of a custodian strikes at the heart of what the original lawsuit, filed in July of 2008 was all about – power.

The King children’s feud became public when Bernice, 46, and Martin, 51, field suit against Dexter, 48, charging him with tainting their parents’ legacy through financial mismanagement.

Filed in Fulton County Superior Court, the suit specifically accused Dexter of mishandling funds from King Inc., improperly taking money from the estate of their mother, Coretta Scott King,  and acting unilaterally regarding both parents’ estates without their permission or knowledge.

Bernice and Martin said they were kept in the dark by their brother, who had been installed as the head of King Inc. The board of King Inc. consists only of the three siblings and there has not been a shareholders meeting since before their mother died in 2006.

In that time, Martin and Bernice King said their brother’s refusal to have a board meeting

At the center of the conflict is money and how Dexter managed and spent it. Martin and Bernice have long-contended that they didn’t get a fair split of the $32 million that the siblings got when they sold their father’s papers to the city of Atlanta.

Dexter was also accused of negotiating an $800,000 licensing deal with a foundation that is raising money for a King memorial on the National Mall without their knowledge. There were also book and movie deals that were done without their input.

Dexter countersued and tried to force Bernice to provide love letters between his parents.

Monday's settlement avoided what could have been a lengthy and embarrassing jury trial.

"I think it was a very good agreement,"  Dexter said. "No one wanted to see this go to a full blown trial.

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