Board members of a foundation a 92-year-old heiress established for Native Hawaiians are calling for a judge to protect her $215 million trust.
The money should go toward helping Native Hawaiians, they said at a news conference Thursday in front of Honolulu’s Iolani Palace. They are asking a judge to appoint a guardian for the elderly heiress, whose riches come from being the great-granddaughter of James Campbell, an Irish businessman who made his fortune as a sugar plantation owner and one of Hawaii’s largest landowners.
Many Native Hawaiians consider Abigail Kawananakoa to be the last Hawaiian princess because she’s a descendent of the family that ruled the islands before the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom.
A key court hearing in a legal fight over the trust is scheduled for Monday.
Her longtime lawyer, Jim Wright, persuaded a judge to appoint him as trustee, arguing a stroke last year left her impaired. Kawananakoa says she’s fine.
As trustee, Wright appointed three prominent Native Hawaiian leaders to serve as board members for the $100 million foundation Kawananakoa created in 2001. The foundation has a right to participate in the court battle because it is a beneficiary of her trust.
Kawananakoa “has reached a point in her life where she needs us to stand up and fight for her and her legacy,” said foundation board member Jan Dill. Kawananakoa intended that the foundation serve the Hawaiian community in arts, language, culture and education, he said.
Dill and the other board members accuse Kawananakoa’s wife, Veronica Gail Worth, and her attorneys of exploiting her.
“For me this is a clear case of elder abuse,” said board member Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, urging that the judge appoint a guardian for Kawananakoa. “At the rate they’re going spending money, we’ll see if there’s anything left for the Hawaiian people in this trust,” she said.
The judge needs to follow the estate plan she created for herself, the board members said. “She had everything set up for Jim Wright to step in and do the right thing, and I think he has,” Kameeleihiwa said.
Michael Lilly, an attorney representing Kawananakoa, said he is bound by a stipulated court order not to discuss the case publicly. The foundation board members should also be bound by the order, he said, adding that he will respond to their comments in court Monday.