Abigail Kawananakoa’s former attorney and now trustee of her $200 million estate formally asked the court Monday to appoint a neutral party to investigate the legal issues and circumstances surrounding the Campbell Estate heiress and to authorize independent medical examinations.
In addition, James Wright said he will offer evidence to the court showing that the 91-year-old Kawananakoa, who recently suffered a stroke, faces both physical and financial danger as long as she remains under the controlling influence of her private secretary and life partner of more than 20 years, Veronica Gail Worth.
The probate court request is the latest move in a high-profile dispute over control of an estate that includes the Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa Foundation, which was set up by Kawananakoa to become a charity underwriting Native Hawaiian causes following her death.
Worth is challenging a ruling by Circuit Judge R. Mark Browning declaring Kawananakoa incapable of handling her own financial affairs following the June 18 stroke. Browning gave Wright control of the estate in a move that was spelled out in a successorship plan previously set up by Kawananakoa in case she became incapacitated.
Worth’s attorney, Michael Rudy, said his client believes Kawananakoa is mentally competent and is seeking to return control of the trust to her partner. A team of experts has been hired to prove she’s mentally competent, he said, and at least one evaluation has already proved she is indeed legally capable.
What’s more, the attorney released to the media a letter written in Kawananakoa’s handwriting saying that she’s “alive and well after suffering a minor attack” and that she fired Wright because “he was not following my wishes and he was mismanaging my financial affairs.”
“I had lost my trust in him and he no doubt knew he was in the process of being terminated,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, the state
Attorney General’s Office has indicated it will join the court proceeding in an effort to ensure a fair process and protect the charitable assets of the foundation.
If Kawananakoa is ruled to have legal capacity, she can do what she wants with her fortune, said Hugh Jones, head of the attorney general’s Tax and Charities Division. If not, the trust’s plan calls for the successor trustee (Wright) to control the funds on behalf of the foundation, he said.
In his court filing Monday, Wright asked that a Kokua Kanawai, or “helper of the court,” be appointed to examine circumstances of the case. According to probate rules, such an appointee would serve as an extension of the court for independent review, analysis and report.
Additionally, Wright asked that Kawananakoa be subject to independent medical examinations — not just the “professional witnesses” retained by Worth “to support her position.”
Rudy said he wouldn’t object to having a disinterested party assist the court.
In an interview last week, Wright insisted Kawananakoa isn’t the same woman he represented for nearly two decades. Following the stroke, Kawananakoa showed no interest in her finances or the causes she passionately supported over the last two decades and more, he said.
Wright said he plans to show the court photographic evidence that Worth has committed physical acts of violence against Kawananakoa.
Also, Wright has said Worth asked Kawananakoa for $26 million in stock in March but was refused, prompting the girlfriend to separate from her partner until she returned following news of the stroke.
Worth, a beneficiary of the trust, has reportedly received an allowance of $700,000 a year and previously demanded that Kawananakoa provide her with $50,000 a month for the rest of Worth’s life after tax.
Rudy said he and Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Lilly, would be filing a petition with the court to establish a gag order, in part to stop the “outrageous” statements that Wright has been telling the media.
“It shows a desperation,” he said, “and it is sad he feels he has to do this.”
Rudy said Wright, as a lawyer, has a duty of confidentiality to his current and former clients, including not discussing medical conditions and financial information. That includes information about Kawananakoa, as well as Worth, who Rudy contends shared a previous client-attorney relationship.
As for pictures that might show bruising on Kawananakoa, Rudy said people in their 90s bruise easily. And if the pictures imply elder abuse and are at least a year old, as Rudy’s been told, then Wright had a duty to report it to authorities at that time, he said.
Wright said his motivation, as trustee, is to enforce the rules of the trust, which includes protecting the foundation and its charitable aims.
The foundation, established by Kawananakoa in 2001, is expected to control about $100 million after the will’s beneficiaries are given their share.
“The pie is only so big, and if Veronica keeps increasing the size of her slice, there’s not going to be much left for the Hawaiians,” he said.