Battle over Hawaiian royalty descendant's fortune heats up

Published: Mar. 16, 2018 at 12:53 AM HST|Updated: Mar. 16, 2018 at 7:37 AM HST
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The legal battle over Hawaiian royalty descendant Abigail Kawananakoa's fortune is heating up as a state judge ruled that allegations of physical abuse must be investigated.

Probate Judge Mark Browning also denied the 91-year-old heiress's request to appoint three new trustees – including her wife Veronica Worth – to oversee her estate, estimated at over $200 million.

Aided by a wheelchair and holding her dog in her lap, Kawananakoa attended today's hearing with Worth.

"It was a difficult decision to make. It was a lot to consider," Kawananakoa said of Browning's rulings.

"There's a long story behind this," Kawananakoa said.

Kawananakoa was replaced as trustee last year by her longtime former attorney James Wright after Wright told the Probate Court that she suffered a stroke and was mentally impaired.

He also alleged that Worth physically abused Kawananakoa. Hawaii News Now previously reported that household staff had taken pictures of bruises on Kawananakoa's arm back in June 2016.

Sources said that when Wright asked Kawananakoa who was responsible, she told him Worth did it.

Worth has since married Kawananakoa and Worth's attorney, Michael Rudy, denies that his client harmed her.

"There is absolutely no evidence of physical abuse perpetrated on Miss Kawananakoa," Rudy said. "In fact, the photos that surfaced in the media and other places were two years old."

Kawananakoa's attorney agreed.

"This is a married couple, two people who love each other and neither of whom had made allegations of physical abuse," said Michael Lilly, Kawananakoa's lawyer.

But Browning ruled that allegations of abuse are relevant and that an ongoing independent medical examination of Kawananakoa's fitness will look into the matter.

"I disagree with Mr. Rudy about the effects of … alleged physical abuse that occurred," Browning said. "Because there is evidence that that does have an impact on someone's state of mind."

Today's hearing was the first of several courtroom clashes scheduled over the next several months over the Kawananakoa Trust.

Rudy and Lilly have argued that Wright should be removed because he allegedly lied when he said Kawananakoa suffered a stroke.

"There is no evidence that Ms. Kawananakoa is incapacitated," said Rudy.

But Wright's attorney alleged that Worth is exerting undue influence over Kawananakoa.

In court filings, Wright's attorney Ed Saffrey said that attorneys for Worth and Kawananakoa recently met with officials with Central Pacific Bank to obtain a loan, using collateral owned by the Kawananakoa Trust.

Saffrey said the lawyers misrepresented that they were the trustees of Kawananakoa Trust and that Wright had been removed. The bank did not issue the loan.

"Having done that and having worked to circumvent this court's order, something has to be done to convey the message that enough with the shenanigans," said Saffrey.

Browning said that a decision on who should run the trust is premature until the independent medical exam of Kawananakoa is completed.

Outside the courtroom, we asked Kawananakoa if she felt competent to manage her own affairs but her attorneys cut off the interview:

Hawaii News Now: "The trustee raised questions of your mental competence."

Attorney for Kawananakoa: "We can't talk about the case."

Abigail Kawananakoa: "I can't talk about the case? That's too bad. I have a lot to say … Why can't I talk about the case?"

Meanwhile, the judge urged both sides to work with each other, making reference to Kawananakoa's vast charitable efforts

"I would ask that you draw on what you have in common, draw on the true strength of Miss Kawananakoa, what Princess Kawananakoa's legacy is. There are people who care about her, there are people … all across the state who have benefited from her charity and care," Browning said.

"If you don't continue to move forward, then the end result is you're ignoring what is in the best interest of this lady, this amazing individual."

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