Abigail Kawananakoa’s mental health has become the focus of an ongoing legal battle over who should have control of her $200 million Campbell Estate fortune.
This week her former attorney, James Wright, asked a Circuit Court judge to appoint an independent investigator to help determine if the 91-year-old royal Hawaiian heiress is capable of managing her own finances after suffering a stroke in June.
Wright took control of the estate shortly after Kawananakoa was hospitalized.
Abigail Kawananakoa and Veronica Gail Worth, right, with former Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi at the Hawaii State Supreme Court in 2015.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
He said in court records that Kawananakoa’s longtime partner, Veronica Gail Worth, has retained expert medical witnesses to help prove that the princess is healthy and competent.
Wright now wants a judge to allow for independent medical exams of Kawananakoa so as to avoid any sense of manipulation.
“This gives Ms. Kawananakoa an independent, neutral assessment by someone who is acting as the eyes and ears of the probate judge,” Wright said of his request to the court to appoint a “kokua kanawai” to oversee the process.
“Experts are hired to support a point of view not to provide an independent point of view,” he added. “The purpose of a retained expert is to support your conclusion. It’s not to provide an independent and neutral assessment.”
Wright has said he’s worried that Kawananakoa is the victim of undue influence from Worth, who has hired her own attorney in the matter.
Worth receives an annual allowance from Kawananakoa of about $700,000, but she has a history of asking the princess for more money, most recently in March while attempting to get another $26 million in James Campbell Co. stock.
Wright has also accused Worth of physically assaulting Kawananakoa, and said that he will share photographic evidence of the abuse with the courts.
Worth and her attorney, Michael Rudy, did not respond to Civil Beat’s requests for comment. Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Lilly, likewise did not respond to a request for comment.
But in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article published Monday, Rudy said it was “outrageous” that Wright would be making such claims. Rudy also responded to images leaked to the press that purportedly showed bruises on the princess, saying that people in their 90s bruise easily.
Rudy told the newspaper that if Wright knew about the abuse shown in the photos that he should have reported it to authorities.
Meanwhile, Kawananakoa’s true mental state remains a subject of controversy.
Wright has said her personality appeared to have changed after the stroke, and that doctors told him at the time she was not fit to manage her estate, which is why a judge allowed him to take over in the first place.
Worth, however, is seeking to push back against that contention. Rudy has said he’s hired a team of experts to perform evaluations on Kawananakoa to help prove her fitness. He also released a handwritten letter to the press that he said was written by Kawananakoa herself.
“Contrary to what the public has seen on television and read in the newspaper, I am alive and well after suffering a minor attack on the evening of June 18th,” Kawananakoa wrote.
She said that she had fired Wright and that she was surprised to have found out that he took control of her estate shortly after she was released from the hospital.
Kawananakoa then thanked Worth for bringing the matter to her attention so that she could once again take control of her own finances.
“Quite simply I do not trust Mr. Wright’s judgment and do not want him carrying on my legacy,” Kawananakoa said.
“I would be sorely remiss should I fail to recognize that without the invaluable assistance of Veronica Gail Worth this egregious breach might have never been righted, leaving me unable to complete my lifelong mission of supporting the Hawaiian People and my many other charitable causes.”
Kawananakoa has a history of philanthropy, and has been instrumental in preserving Iolani Palace, which was built in the late 19th century by her great-uncle, King David Kalakaua.
She’s long said that she wanted to leave much of her fortune to Native Hawaiians when she dies, and set up an organization in 2001 to do exactly that.
The Abigail K.K. Kawananakoa Foundation has a mission to “maintain, support, preserve and foster the traditional Hawaiian culture in existence prior to 1778, including its art, language, music, religious practice and social history, while at the same time enabling Hawaiian people to function more effectively in the contemporary global community.”
The foundation seeks to scholarships, medical aid and legal advice to Native Hawaiians, in addition to funding that will go to protecting cultural resources.
Wright has said that every dollar that is spent or diverted to someone else, including to Worth, is money that won’t go to the foundation.
The Hawaii Attorney General’s Office has said it will participate in the case to represent the interests of the charity and its beneficiaries.
Read Kawananakoa’s letter to the press here:
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