Court-appointed official says heiress Kawananakoa may be victim of 'undue influence'

Court-appointed official says heiress Kawananakoa may be victim of 'undue influence'
Updated: Sep. 6, 2018 at 8:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the legal battle over Hawaiian royalty descendant Abigail Kawananakoa's fortune heats up, a sealed report by a court-appointed official concludes that the 92-year-old heiress not only "lacks the mental capacity" to manage her own financial affairs but may be the victim of "undue influence."

Hawaii News Now obtained the report by Probate Court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem Randall Morikawa, who recommended that the legal dispute be decided by a civil trial and not in Probate Court.

"There may be numerous issues as to whether undue influence or perhaps even fraud may be involved with respect to this case," Morikawa wrote.

Morikawa was appointed by Probate Judge Mark Browning to look after the interests of future beneficiaries.

His report, which was submitted to the court under seal but is not listed in the court's index, is adding more fuel to the already heated legal battle over Kawananakoa's $215 million fortune.

It also echoes the medical findings of court-appointed independent medical examiner Dr. David Trader, a Los Angeles psychiatrist.

But Morikawa goes further by concluding that Kawananakoa, who suffered a stroke-like attack last year, may be the victim of undue influence at the hands of her wife, Veronica Gail Worth.

Hawaii News Now previously has reported that Kawananakoa's former caretakers took pictures of bruises on her arm and leg. They said the heiress later told them that Worth hit her.

"Although it appears that Kawananakoa and Worth may have had a long off and on relationship and share a love for each other, it is quite evident that Worth has used that love in attempts to manipulate Kawananakoa and have (her) give Worth what Worth wants," Morikawa wrote.

"Worth married Kawananakoa after the stroke occurred and appears to be manipulating Kawananakoa with respect to numerous matters such as trying to remove (James) Wright as the trustee of the trust."

Wright was appointed by Browning to oversee her trust after he found that she was not fit to manager her affair. But Worth and Kawananakoa are now suing to remove him and regain control of her money.

Kawananakoa's lawyer Michael Lilly declined comment. But in court papers, he has pointed out that another court-appointed expert, Special Master James Kawachika, didn't find evidence of undue influence and said that Kawananakoa has the capacity to change her trust and its beneficiaries if she wants.

"We can't discuss publicly anything that has been ruled on yet but I'm going to making my comments on the record on Monday in court," Lilly said.

The report comes as board members of the Abigail Kawananakoa Foundation held a news conference today, urging Browning to do more to protect Kawananakoa.

"For me, this is a clear case of elder abuse and we who are kupuna need to stand up and say the court must do something to protect Abigail Kawananakoa," said foundation director and University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Professor Lilikala Kameeleihiwa.

The foundation also complained that the judge is keeping too much information secret.

Besides the Guardian Ad Litem's report, the independent medical examiner's report was also filed under seal.

"The public should know what's going on. Her mental capacity is at question here," said foundation director and former Bishop Estate and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Oswald Stender.

Hawaii News Now has petitioned Browning to unseal most of the records and has asked the state Supreme Court to review the judge's decision to seal the records.

The secrecy issue led Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to recuse himself after Hawaii News Now questioned a phone call Recktenwald allegedly made to Browning regarding the case.

In his brief letter, Recktenwald did not explain why he recused. But in general, judges are not supposed consult with other judges on cases that may come before them.

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