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Royal Hawaiian heiress Abigail Kawananakoa wants a state judge to issue a gag order to her former attorney, James Wright, saying he has inappropriately revealed sensitive details about her and her partner, Veronica Gail Worth.
Kawananakoa, Worth, Wright and various attorneys are locked in an increasingly public legal fight over Kawananakoa’s $215 million estate. Wright was given control of the estate by the courts in July after the princess, as she is called, suffered a stroke and was hospitalized.
Kawananakoa now says she had fired Wright — her attorney for nearly 20 years — before a judge confirmed his legal authority to take control of the estate. But Wright says the princess is not herself since the medical problem in June and is being unduly influenced by Worth.
In a court filing this week, Kawananakoa makes it clear she doesn’t like being the center of media attention. And she blames Wright for putting her in that spot.
She said Wright has a duty, both as her former attorney and now as a trustee of her estate, to maintain a certain level of confidence when it comes to details of her health and finances.
Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Lilly, declined to comment for this story. But in court papers he said Wright’s comments to the media have resulted in a breach of his duties as an attorney and is a violation of professional conduct.
“There is no legitimate reason for her prior attorney and current interim trustee’s disclosures to the media, which only embarrasses AKKK and disseminates private and confidential medical and financial information to the public,” Lilly said.
“All the disclosures of personal, confidential, financial and medical information arose out of the former trustee’s representation as an attorney or as current interim trustee and therefore are protected from disclosure by the duties of loyalty and confidentiality.”
Lilly highlighted a number of statements Wright purportedly made to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now regarding Kawananakoa’s health and financial situation.
Some statements included details about Kawananakoa’s hospitalization inside a neurointensive care unit at Queen’s Medical Center while others involved Worth’s attempts to extract more money from the heiress.
While Lilly asked for the gag order to take effect immediately, Circuit Court Judge R. Mark Browning denied the request and set it for a hearing on Sept. 14.
Wright did not want to comment on the gag order. But in his response to Lilly’s filing his attorney, Frank Kanemitsu, described the request as “overly broad and unreasonable.”
Kanemitsu said that a gag order would make it difficult for Wright to do his job as the as a trustee of Kawananakoa’s estate because it would block him from talking banks, insurance companies, members of the James Campbell Co. and law enforcement.
He added that his client’s actions were “necessary and reasonably calculated to protect Kawananakoa and the Trust.”
“From the outset of this proceeding other individuals have engaged in a media campaign of ‘alternative facts’ designed to attack the Trust and the authority and legitimacy of its Successor Trustee,” Kanemitsu said. “Their actions have disrupted the Trust’s normal business operations.”
Kanemitsu cited two specific examples, one that caused a delay in securing money for a loan and the other that resulted in James Campbell Co. suspending a stock deal that is “critical to meeting tax obligations and maintaining solvency.”
Kanemitsu said Wright did not want to go public with his concerns. He only did so after others began “disseminating falsehoods” to the media that Wright felt compelled to correct.
Kanemitsu’s response to Lilly included a signed declaration from Wright, who laid out an nearly identical argument as to why he spoke freely and why he should continue to do so.
In his declaration, Wright also lobbed new allegations at Worth and her attorney, Michael Rudy, who he said was retained by Worth several months before Kawananakoa’s stroke to help secure an additional $26 million from Kawananakoa’s estate.
Specifically, Wright accused Worth of trying to intimidate the holder of Kawananakoa’s power of attorney and her primary care physician.
He also said Worth retained Lilly after Kawananakoa became incapacitated from the stroke.
“The publicity campaign by the other individuals forced me to choose between (1) releasing truthful information in response to false public allegations or (2) failing to act and thereby breaching my fiduciary duty to protect the trust,” Wright said.”
“I have made every effort to respect Kawananakoa’s privacy and, to the extent practicable, minimize the intrusion in Kawananakoa’s life,” he added.
“I remain committed to respecting Kawananakoa’s privacy and would encourage that all parties stipulate to refrain from making public statements which could adversely affect the Trust’s administration and the privacy interest of Kawananakoa.”
Kawananakoa and Wright have been wrangling over who should maintain financial control of her estate.
Attorneys representing Kawananankoa and Worth have said that Kawananakoa is physically fine and capable of retaining legal control of her finances.
But Wright has said that Worth is simply trying to get more money for herself.
He says Worth has a history of squeezing money out of Kawananakoa in addition to her nearly $700,000 a year allowance. He’s also accused Worth of committing acts of physical violence against Kawananakoa.
Wright said he’s particularly worried about Kawananakoa’s charitable foundation, which was set up in 2001 as a means to help Native Hawaiians when she dies.
You can read Lilly’s request for the gag order and Kanemitsu’s response here: