Parren Mitchell settles in car-payment suit

$6,500 owed on vehicle bought in his name by nephew Michael Mitchell

October 26, 2002|By Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ivan Penn | Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

A lawsuit against former congressman Parren J. Mitchell has apparently been settled, with the ailing civil rights leader agreeing to pay $6,500 owed for a loan on a car he never got to drive.

Papers filed this week in District Court in Baltimore indicate that Mitchell, 80, who has resided in a nursing home for several years, agreed to pay the money to the General Motors Acceptance Corp.

The credit company sued Mitchell earlier this year after he failed to make payments on a 1998 Buick Century purchased in his name by his nephew, Michael B. Mitchell, a former state senator and city councilman.

The GMAC suit is one of several financial problems for the elder Mitchell that have surfaced in recent months. A Florida firm recently initiated foreclosure proceedings on the West Baltimore home where Parren Mitchell lived before being admitted to Keswick Multi-Care Center.

According to court papers, Mitchell has until Dec. 9 to pay about $3,500 in unpaid city fees to avert foreclosure on the property at 828 N. Carrollton Ave.

The Sun reported in May that despite a congressional pension estimated at $60,000 a year, unpaid bills, including more than $100,000 owed to Keswick, were piling up in Parren Mitchell's name. At the time, Michael Mitchell was in charge of his uncle's finances. Those duties have since been taken over by Arthur M. Frank, an attorney who has represented Michael Mitchell and other members of the Mitchell family.

Frank said yesterday that under the settlement agreement in the GMAC suit, the $6,500 will be paid over the next 60 days. He said the papers indicating the settlement had been finalized were filed in error.

The attorney said he will take steps in the near future to pay the outstanding amounts owed on the Carrollton Avenue property to avert the foreclosure. He said Michael Mitchell recently forwarded the funds to him to reclaim the property.

Court records show that the 1998 Buick was extensively damaged in an early-morning accident nearly two years ago while being driven by Michael Mitchell.

Michael Mitchell, using power of attorney, purchased the car in his uncle's name in 1999. The younger Mitchell also signed the loan agreement on Parren Mitchell's behalf.

When interviewed this year at the nursing home, Parren Mitchell said he was unaware of the car purchase, but that he was glad his nephew had bought the car.

The elder Mitchell retired from Congress in 1986. In 1971, he became the first African-American from Maryland to be elected to Congress. He became a patient at Keswick after suffering several strokes.

Elise Balkin, the attorney for GMAC, declined to comment yesterday on the status of the case. Initially, lawyers for GMAC sued for about $16,000, which included penalties and lawyers fees.

Parren Mitchell was represented in the case by Craig Spencer, a Columbia attorney who could not be reached for comment. Spencer had filed a counterclaim charging that because of the accident, an insurance policy taken out by Michael Mitchell should have covered the cost of the vehicle.

The apparent settlement occurs as the case was scheduled to go to trial.

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