PEARL CITY, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaiian royalty descendant Abigail Kawananakoa's efforts to evict her former housekeepers from a Pearl City home hit a snag after the judge abruptly recused himself from the case.
On Thursday, Megan Kau, attorney for the housekeepers, accused District Court Judge Steven Hartley of having a potential conflict of interest. She said he should step aside from the case since he represented Kawananakoa's nephew, David, who is pursuing the eviction on behalf of the 92-year-old heiress.
It's the latest controversy in the legal battle over the control of Kawananakoa's $200 million fortune.
"It has been brought to my attention that there may be a conflict. I was informed this morning that your honor was the attorney for David Kawananakoa. He is now the party that has brought this suit," Kau said in court on Thursday.
"We are respectfully asking the court to disqualify itself. We believe that under the Hawaii revised code of conduct that, although the court might not have an actual conflict of interest, there may be an appearance of impropriety."
Hartley is a per diem judge who works as a family court attorney. He disclosed in court that he represented David Kawananakoa and his brother, former state lawmaker Quentin Kawananakoa, in unrelated family court matters.
But the disclosure came only after Kau raised the potential conflict and after the judge made a number of housekeeping rulings in the eviction case.
"Thank you Miss Kau, I was going to make that one of my announcements this morning before we started as well. I did not know that until you advised the court that David Kawananakoa has been substituted in," Hartley said in response to Kau.
"Even though I do not believe there is a conflict, and I do I believe I could rule on this motion with impartiality, I am going to err on the side of caution."
The hearing was postponed until next week and another judge will hear the case.
The Kawananakoas are seeking to evict longtime housekeeper Thongbay Smart and her family from their home. But the Smarts said that Abigail Kawananakoa promised to give them the home.
Kau said Kawananakoa and her wife Veronica Worth are now retaliating against her clients because they spoke with a court-appointed Special Master and an independent medical examiner, who are investigating whether Kawananakoa is mentally fit to manage her trust.
Last July, Kawananakoa was removed from her trust and was replaced by her former attorney James Wright after suffering a stroke-like attack. The sealed report by the medical examiner concluded that she was not fit to manage her own affairs. Kawananakoa and Worth are now seeking to remove Wright.