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New lawyer for Hawaiian heiress in legal battle over her millions

HONOLULU (AP) — A judge is allowing a 93-year-old Native Hawaiian heiress to switch lawyers in a legal fight over control of her $215 million estate.

Abigail Kawananakoa is considered a princess because she’s a descendent of the family that ruled the islands before the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893. She’s trying to regain control of her estate after she suffered a stroke in 2017. A judge last year ruled she lacks the mental capacity to manage her trust and appointed First Hawaiian Bank to serve as trustee. The judge removed Jim Wright, her former longtime attorney who stepped in as trustee after the stroke.

Kawananakoa said she’s fine, fired Wright and then married Veronica Gail Worth, her girlfriend of 20 years.

On Tuesday, her soon-to-be-retired attorney Michael Lilly withdrew from the case and was replaced by Bruce Voss, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Attorneys representing Wright and the Abigail KK Kawananakoa Foundation objected. They said a woman found incapable of managing her finances shouldn’t be allowed to hire a new attorney. They want the judge to appoint an independent financial conservator or guardian to make an impartial decision about hiring a new attorney.

Wright and the foundation board members say they are trying to protect about $100 million Kawananakoa earmarked for Native Hawaiian causes. Wright has said he wants to also prevent Kawananakoa’s wife from taking the money for herself.

With Worth and her pet Chihuahua by her side, Kawananakoa said she’s exasperated by the drawn-out legal battle. “When I think about it, it’s incredible that it’s gotten this far,” she said.

The court case has taken a financial and personal toll, she said. “I had my ego stripped and my financial position,” she said. “Also, we don’t recognize it but I am a real princess. It has nothing to do with me, it’s just the way I was born — a princess.”

The case has prevented the couple from leading a private life, Worth said.

Meanwhile, there has been no progress in mediation efforts to resolve the case. “Talk with each other with the aloha that is necessary to come up with solutions that otherwise I will be forced to impose one way or another,” Judge R. Mark Browning told the lawyers.

Kawananakoa said she’s broke, but court records show she receives enough money from her estate to cover her monthly needs.