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Martin Luther King Jr. estate moves to end ownership fight over documents

Harry Belafonte (C) laughs with a fellow audience member as they depart after a reception for the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors recipients at t
Harry Belafonte (C) laughs with a fellow audience member as they depart after a reception for the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors recipients at t

By Casey Sullivan

(Reuters) - The estate of Martin Luther King Jr. has moved to end a five-month dispute with U.S. singer and social activist Harry Belafonte over the ownership of documents that included an undelivered speech of the late civil rights leader.

In an 18-page motion filed in New York federal court on Wednesday, lawyers for King's estate asked U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet to enforce a confidential settlement agreement that the estate's lawyers said was reached between Belafonte, the estate and King's youngest daughter, Bernice King.

Belafonte and Bernice King "both agreed immediately to be bound by the terms of the parties' settlement agreement (over the documents) on February 4, 2014, but both have since refused to execute the written memorialization of that agreement," said Lisa Pearson, a lawyer for the King estate.

"These parties lack any colorable basis for their improper refusal to execute or abide by the agreement they entered, which has caused unreasonable and unnecessary delay and expense and warrants an award of the Estate's related costs, fees and expenses pursuant to the court's inherent powers," said Pearson.

Belafonte had sued King's estate in October and asked the New York court to declare him the owner of three documents associated with King and his widow, Coretta Scott King, and to bar Bernice King from trying to claim ownership of the items.

The documents were an outline of King's "Casualties of the War in Vietnam" speech that Belafonte said he has had in his possession since 1967; the "Memphis Speech" that was undelivered and found in one of King's suit pockets after his 1968 assassination; and a condolence letter that President Lyndon Johnson sent to Coretta Scott King after his death.

The motion did not detail the terms of the settlement, but said it had been finalized and lawyers had agreed on language of a press release about the agreement.

Lawyers for King's estate, Belafonte and Bernice King could not be immediately reached for comment.

Pearson requested Belafonte and King to pay the estate's costs and fees in connection with the motion.

(Reporting by Casey Sullivan and Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Mohammad Zargham)

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