(CN) – Two elderly nuns at the heart of a 10-day trial involving the sale of their former convent, the Los Angeles archdiocese, pop star Katy Perry and a local restaurateur watched from the gallery Thursday as attorneys gave closing arguments in the dispute.
The Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles and Bird Nest, a company formed by Perry to purchase the villa and home in LA’s Los Feliz neighborhood, seek damages from developer and restaurateur Dana Hollister, who recorded a grant deed on the property while the pop star was in negotiations to purchase it.
Hollister’s attorney Michael Geibelson asked the jury Thursday to look closely at the bills and other documents that are being sought as damages from his client. The archdiocese seeks $3.4 million, while Perry seeks $2.6 million.
“They ask you to take their word for it,” Geibelson said. He pointed to one bill that referenced an attorney’s fee for several tasks in one day, including responding to the media.
“I don’t understand what responding to Buzzfeed has to do with a quit-claim deed,” Geibelson said.
In his closing argument, the archdiocese’s attorney Kirk Dillman painted a portrait of a businesswoman who took advantage of two elderly nuns to purchase the property and interfered with a deal already in process between Archbishop Jose Gomez and Perry.
Hollister “knowingly, maliciously stole title” from the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dillman told the jury, by filing an invalid grant deed in 2015 that clouded title of the property despite lacking the archbishop’s permission to buy the property.
Her actions were reckless and forced “us into court, where we have been for the last two and a half years,” Dillman said.
Denying that his firm McCool Smith Hennigan overbilled the archbishop, Dillman focused on invoices for July 2015 that topped $250,000. The invoices accounted for several attorneys hired by the archdiocese who spent time trying to remove the cloud from the title and previous fees associated with the other court decisions.
Margaret Graf, the archdiocese’s general counsel, chose the attorneys based on their experience to handle the complex litigation.
“Yeah, they’re high,” Dillman said. “That’s what the market charges for these kinds of firms.”
But it should never have come to this, said Dillman and Bird Nest attorney Eric Rowen of Greenberg Traurig. They argued that the evidence told Hollister her contract to purchase the property from nuns Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman was invalid. Such evidence included correspondence from Graf and letters from the Vatican stating the sisters did not have the civil authority to sell the property.
“It just got more clear over time,” Dillman said. He told the jury that Hollister should have relied on a letter from the archbishop and three state court rulings reinforcing that the sisters did not have the authority to broker a deal.
“It’s despicable, ladies and gentlemen,” Dillman said.
Rowen said Hollister has a pattern of purchasing church property, including another former convent in nearby Silver Lake, which involved a seven-year escrow. This gives her a chance renegotiate a lower price because the seller is desperate, as was the case with property she bought from another set of nuns, he said.
“She believes she can wear everyone down,” Rowen said. “If it got too expensive, then maybe Katy Perry wouldn’t have stuck around.”
Attorneys for Perry and the archdiocese asked the jury to consider malice, oppression or fraud by Hollister in recording the invalid deed and modifying the details of her contract with the sisters for the convent. But Geibelson said there has to be evidence Hollister acted with the intent to harm.
“This is a dispute on who had authority” to sell, Geibelson said, closing with a quote from Callanan on whether she felt Hollister took advantage of their trust.
“Absolutely not,” the quote read, and Callanan nodded from the gallery.
The jury returns Friday for deliberations.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.