Sprinkled throughout letters and e-mails filed in Surrogate’s Court are references by the sisters’ lawyers to the siblings’ tense relationship. The first public indication of problems with the estate began in 2002, after a collection of Malcolm X items turned up at Butterfields, the San Francisco auction house. Malikah Shabazz was accused of taking some of her father’s unpublished writings — including letters, speeches and journals — to Florida without permission. She allegedly placed the items in storage but allowed her bill to go unpaid, and her father’s work wound up at auction. The estate had to pay more than $300,000 to get the items back, Joseph Fleming, the former lawyer for Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz, wrote in a court petition in 2004. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem paid more than $400,000 in 2003 to borrow the collection for 75 years, and the center is currently the only place where the works can be viewed. In a petition attached to the accounting, Mr. Fleming questioned Malikah Shabazz’s mental capacity and blamed her for losing potential licensing deals. That petition eventually led to the appointment in 2007 of Ms. Douglass as Ms. Shabazz’s guardian ad litem, someone who represents a person’s interests in court but may not make decisions on the person’s behalf. Two years later, Ms. Douglass issued a 30-page report accusing Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz of misappropriating assets, citing examples like the women’s advancing shares of their inheritance to their sisters and prepaying themselves commissions even when their lawyers advised against it. The estate’s tax bill, meanwhile, more than doubled over the years because of penalties and interest. At more than $2 million, the bill is now greater than the tangible value of the estate, according to an accounting filed last year by Mr. McMillan. Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz are not guilty of anything “other than, perhaps, giving the lawyers and accountants too much authority,” Mr. McMillan said, “under circumstances when their pain and suffering was at an all-time high.” Despite their past disagreements over what to do with the estate, all the sisters other than Malikah Shabazz are now on the same page, Mr. McMillan added.
Mr. McMillan did not make Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz available for comment. Malikah Shabazz could not be reached for comment, but in a letter to the judge last year, she wrote that she had been subject to “overly dramatic bullying” to compel her to agree to a settlement, suggesting that “every bit of everything has been taken from my daughter and I.” But, she added, she did not “plan to at any time participate in any so-called settlements, or negotiations.” One example of how difficult negotiations have become was the inability of the administrators, Ilyasah and Malaak Shabazz, to produce an uncontested accounting of the estate’s assets. After Malikah Shabazz requested an accounting nearly a decade ago, it took two years and a contempt order from Judge Anthony A. Scarpino Jr. of Surrogate’s Court to get the administrators to produce one, which has since been revised at least four times. Ms. Douglass said that because the administrators did not perform an inventory of Dr. Shabazz’s belongings shortly after her death, it would be impossible to determine if anything had gone missing since then. While many items were destroyed in the fire that killed Dr. Shabazz, Mr. McMillan said, the property in her estate had been inventoried. He suggested that there was material that would provide new glimpses into Dr. Shabazz’s life, but would not confirm if that included a manuscript of an autobiography that Dr. Shabazz had told a friend, Leroy Wilson Jr., a trusts and estates lawyer, she was working on. The overall inventory will be included in a final accounting in the coming months, as will proof of every transaction over the life of the estate, Mr. McMillan said. The lawyer said he hoped that would be enough to persuade opponents to close out the estate and to move forward with publishing deals. “We’ll be able to have these very important works curated and presented to the public worldwide,” Mr. McMillan said, “with the dignity and integrity that Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz deserve.”