Abigail Kawananakoa’s latest attempt to reclaim her $215 million Campbell Estate fortune could hinge on notes from a pair of doctors hired to help prove she’s mentally fit to manage her own affairs.
The 91-year-old royal Hawaiian heiress lost control of her finances to her former attorney, James Wright, after she suffered a stroke in June that he said left her incapacitated.
A state court judge confirmed that Wright had legal standing to take over Kawananakoa’s estate, sparking an acrimonious battle involving Wright, Kawananakoa and her long-time partner, Veronica Gail Worth, who has been accused of both physical and financial elder abuse in an attempted money grab.
Last week, Kawananakoa’s attorney, Michael Lilly, a former state attorney general, filed a petition in Hawaii Circuit Court to reverse Judge R. Mark Browning’s July 24 decision that confirmed Wright’s role as the trustee of the heiress’s estate.
Lilly said that decision — which he described as a “fundamental error and denial of fundamental due process” — was based on “incomplete, misleading and undisclosed material information.”
He took particular issue with Wright’s reliance on information from Dr. Joana Magno, the cardiologist who treated Kawananakoa after the stroke. Lilly said Wright failed to disclose that when Magno discharged Kawananakoa she noted that the heiress was doing “very well” and that her mental states was “really back to baseline.”
According to Lilly, Wright should have told the court that an early determination about Kawananakoa’s competency was performed just one day after her admission to the hospital, when she was under “massive doses of painkillers.”
“As AKKK has demonstrated to two medical experts whose reports are attached under seal, she has the capacity to manage her own financial affairs, hire and fire professionals, including trustees and attorneys, and change her estate plan,” Lilly said in the petition.
“Accordingly, AKKK requests that Mr. Wright be immediately removed and she be either reinstated as her own trustee or permitted to choose her own trustee or trustees.”
Lilly declined to be interviewed for this story.
Lilly relied on the medical evaluations of two doctors, Martin Blinder and Patricia Lanoie Blanchette.
Blinder, a forensic psychologist, is a well-known expert witness with a colorful past. In 2001, he was the subject of a three-part series in the San Francisco Chronicle — about six months after he was stabbed by an ex-wife who was later found dead.
Blanchette, meanwhile, is a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, where her faculty bio describes her as “a recognized expert in normal cognitive aging, decisional capacity, and in Alzheimer’s disease.”
Both Blinder and Blanchette’s full assessments of Kawananakoa were filed under seal, but Lilly pulled excerpts from their respective reports for the petition, including one in which Blinder purportedly said Kawananakoa is “a person immune to influence, undue or otherwise.”
Blinder said in his report based on a July 21 examination that it was also his opinion “to a reasonable degree of medical probability” that Kawananakoa “has the requisite neuro-cognitive capacity” to make substantial changes to her trust as she sees fit.
He even cited Kawananakoa’s own handwritten letter, dated July 18, in which she fired Wright as her attorney as proof of her mental capacity.
“The letter of termination for Mr. James H. Wright is a model of clarity and concision,” Blinder wrote.
Lilly paraphrased Blanchette’s report, saying that she found Kawananakoa was “competent to handle her own financial affairs, hire and fire professionals, amend her estate documents including powers of attorney.”
An earlier version of this story said Kawananakoa had paid for the expert opinions. But Worth’s attorney Michael Rudy had previously told the press that he and his client had hired the experts. Lilly now refuses to comment on who actually hired them.
Lilly also argued that Wright didn’t follow proper protocol when taking control of Kawananakoa’s estate. Among other things, Lilly said Wright never notified Kawananakoa or Worth that he planned to ask a judge to verify his trusteeship after the stroke
Lilly said Wright’s petition also didn’t disclose he was fired by Kawananakoa on July 18, which was just six days before Browning ruled in Wright’s favor.
Wright declined to comment on Lilly’s latest filing, referring questions to his attorney, Margery Bronster, a former Hawaii attorney general.
Bronster said that she did not want to comment on the specifics of Lilly’s petition, noting that an official response will be filed with the court later.
“The facts are such that you will see that this is a very lopsided and misleading picture,” Bronster said. “I’m quite confident that some of the misstatements or misimpressions will be corrected.”
In the meantime, she said she is hoping the court will appoint a special master to perform an independent examination of the case. Both Kawananakoa and Worth opposed having a third-party review.
“We are trying to protect Ms. Kawananakoa, her interests and her wishes,” Bronster said. “And we believe Jim did what he was supposed to do in confirming his appointment as successor trustee.”
Read Lilly’s latest filing here: