HONOLULU — An auction of a 94-year-old Native Hawaiian heiress' belongings can't go forward until a conservator is named to handle her finances, a judge ruled Monday.
Abigail Kawananakoa's foundation, which has been working to ensure her fortune goes to benefiting Native Hawaiian causes, asked a judge to stop the auction until at least a conservator is named. The auction was scheduled to close next week, while a hearing on her conservator isn't scheduled until July 21. On Monday, the the auction website said it is now scheduled to end on Aug. 2.
Kawananakoa's wife and others can't proceed with the auction or sell any of her belongings until there's a ruling on the foundation's petition and a permanent conservator is named, Judge R. Mark Browning ruled.
Her $215-million fortune has been tied up in a 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.
A judge ruled in March that she needs a conservator because she's unable to manage her property and business affairs. Another judge ruled month last month her conservatorship should be unlimited and set a hearing for July 21 to determine who that will be.
Some consider Kawananakoa a princess because she's related to the family that ruled the islands before the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.
She 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.
"Ms. Abigail and her spouse, Veronica, have no issue with postponing the sale of Ms. Kawananakoa's personal effects located in her North Shore cottage," Michael Rudy, an attorney representing Kawananakoa's wife, said in a statement on behalf of the couple.
"The Kawānanakoa Foundation is grateful that the auction has been stopped for now," the foundation said in a statement. "We look forward to the appointment of a Conservator who can best determine what should happen to Ms. Kawānanakoa's property, consistent with what is in her best interests."
Foundation directors said in their petition they are concerned that some of the auction items appear culturally significant.
Kawananakoa "will carefully re-examine the sale items to ensure that no significant cultural or historical items are publicly sold" and plans to donate those items to Iolani Palace, Rudy said.
"Ms. Abigail and Veronica respect this ruling and all other prior rulings in this case," Rudy said. "They desperately wish, however, that the Court continues to protect and conserve all of Ms. Kawananakoa's other assets and financial resources that continue to be squandered by unnecessary and unreasonable attorneys' fees, trustee's fees and other costs (now totaling in the millions of dollars), that Ms. Kawananakoa is being involuntarily forced to incur and will continue to be incurred until such time as the Court puts a stop to it."
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