The wife of a 94-year-old Native Hawaiian heiress won’t be appointed as her conservator, a judge ruled today.
Instead, Judge R. Mark Browning appointed retired Hawaiian Electric executive Robbie Alm to serve as conservator for Abigail Kawananakoa, considered a princess by some because she’s related to the family that ruled the islands before the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.
Kawananakoa’s $215 million fortune has been tied up in a bitter legal battle since 2017, when her longtime lawyer, Jim Wright, argued a stroke left her impaired.
Kawananakoa said she’s fine and fired Wright. She then married her partner of 20 years, Veronica Gail Worth, who later took her last name.
Veronica Kawananakoa sought to be appointed conservator after another judge ruled in March that Abigail Kawananakoa needs a conservator because she’s unable to manage her property and business affairs. She testified that she doesn’t need anyone to handle her estate because she isn’t dead yet.
The Kawananakoas listened to the hearing by phone. Because of social distancing guidelines to protect against spreading coronavirus, only a few of the attorneys were in the courtroom.
“The only person that cut costs — Ms. Abigail Kawananakoa’s personal costs — was my client,” said Veronica Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Rudy.
“The fact that people don’t like her,” or some feel she should be disinherited or her inheritance be reduced, doesn’t diminish her priority to serve as conservator, Rudy said.
Kawananakoa inherited her wealth as 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.
Native Hawaiians have been closely watching what happens because they are concerned about the fate of a foundation Abigail Kawananakoa set up to benefit Hawaiian causes.
Her foundation objected to her wife serving as conservator and supported Alm or James Gomez, a certified public accountant.
“The Kawananakoa Foundation is pleased that the court will be installing a conservator with unlimited powers to provide Ms. Kawananakoa with much-needed protection from those currently mismanaging her property,” the foundation said in a statement.
Alm, who listened to the later half of the hearing, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“The only issue here is what’s in the best interest of Ms. Kawananakoa,” Browning said, without elaborating on Alm’s appointment.
Last month, Browning directed a court-appointed helper, known as a Kokua Kanawai, to do a “brief investigation into the four proposed conservators,” including Kawananakoa’s wife. The Kokua Kanawai interviewed the nominated conservators and filed a sealed report.