LOS ANGELES (CN) – A lawyer for the Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles told a California jury Monday that a group of nuns did not have the legal authority to sell or block the sale of real estate at the center of a legal battle between pop star Katy Perry, the archbishop and a local developer.
Restaurateur Dana Hollister registered a title deed for the property, a former convent in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, in 2015 – at the same time Archbishop Jose Gomez had agreed to sell the property to Perry’s company, Bird Nest.
According to the archbishop’s attorney Kirk Dillman of McKool Smith Hennigan, Hollister recorded an invalid grant deed with the Los Angeles Recorder’s Office to block the deal with Perry, even though she knew she did not have written approval from the archbishop.
“Nonetheless she recorded it, with the intent to interfere with our deal with Katy Perry,” Dillman told a jury Monday during opening arguments. “She told the world that she owned the property.”
Dillman said Hollister’s action locked the sale of the convent in the courts and created a “litigation nightmare” for everyone involved, adding she took advantage of a situation that involved elderly nuns and the archbishop on a deal she knew was invalid.
The archbishop and Bird Nest seek damages and legal fees from Hollister. Dillman said the church has spent $3 million on lawyers since going to court over the sale of the property.
The convent previously housed retired nuns from the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Two members of the convent said they had the authority to sell the property to whomever they wanted and objected to the archbishop’s plan to sell to Perry. Instead, the sisters carried out a contract with Hollister, Dillman said.
Hollister wanted to convert the property into a boutique hotel with restaurant and bars, but this conversion would have clashed with the neighborhood and a zoning fight would have taken years. Perry, on the other hand, planned to move into the home with her mother and maintain the property, Dillman said.
Sisters Rita Callahan and Catherine Rose Holzman favored Hollister and signed a contract with an attorney who said they represented the California Institute of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“It may not be surprising that the sisters did not advise the archbishop of the contract,” Dillman said, adding the sisters met with Gomez on the day they signed the contract with Hollister – and said nothing to the archbishop.
“Crickets,” Dillman said of the sisters’ visit with Gomez.
The attorney told jurors the committee overseeing the sale of the property met with Hollister as a courtesy to explain why Gomez planned to sell the property to Perry’s company Bird Nest. And lawyers for the archbishop explained the sisters did not control the property in order to sell it, since doing so would require written approval from the archbishop and approval from the Holy See, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome.
None of this was ambiguous and Hollister was provided updates on why the archbishop would not sell, Dillman told the jury. The Vatican also informed the sisters by letter that they did not have the authority to sell the property, which they shared with Hollister’s lawyer Wendy Coffelt.
In an email to Hollister, Coffelt shared the contents of the Vatican’s letter to the sisters. Hollister responded: “That is total B.S.,” and, according to Dillman, went out and recorded the deed that reduced the purchase price by $5 million.
Hollister only ended up paying $44,000 for the property, Dillman said, a move that along with the invalid deed forced the archbishop, Bird Nest and Hollister into court.
“We are entitled to damages. That’s what you will decide,” Dillman told jurors.
An attorney for Bird Nest will make their opening argument on Tuesday before Los Angeles County Superior Judge Stephanie Bowick.