A Los Angeles jury Friday found that restaurant owner Dana Hollister intentionally interfered with singer Katy Perry's attempts to purchase a former convent from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Perry's drawn-out legal fight to buy the Los Feliz property was partly settled earlier this year when a judge ruled that the right to sell the property lay with the archdiocese, not the nuns who used to live there and who opposed the sale to the pop star.
According to the jury, Hollister deliberately tried to thwart that sale when she purchased the property from two nuns. The jury awarded the archdiocese $3.47 million in attorney fees and Perry's company, Bird Nest LLC, $1.57 million in fees.
The jury also found that Hollister acted with malice, oppression or fraud, meaning a second phase of the trial will begin next month to determine if the singer and the church should be awarded punitive damages.
"I am thrilled with the outcome," said Perry's manager, Steve Jensen. "It just proves that we have been right all the way along."
Hollister's attorney Michael Geibelson said he was disappointed by the outcome and expected the matter to go before the state Court of Appeal.
The sometimes bitter legal battle began when Hollister bought the property on Waverly Drive from Sisters Catherine Rose Holzman and Rita Callanan, two of the five remaining members of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who used to call the convent home. The sister moved from the convent in 2011.
That sale came as the archdiocese was finalizing a $14.5-million deal to sell Perry the property, a villa-style compound perched above Los Feliz Boulevard that offers sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains and downtown. Perry's attorneys have previously said she plans to live on the property
The nuns argued they had the right to sell the property while the church and Perry's lawyers contended that the sisters did not get the required legal blessings of Archbishop Jose Gomez.
The question of who had the right to sell the convent took two years to settle as high-priced lawyers argued over property rights and the particulars of the canon law that governs the Catholic Church.
In March, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Bowick ruled that the sale by the nuns to Hollister was not valid.
Among other snags, the nuns never got permission from the Vatican before selling to Hollister, Bowick ruled. In Los Angeles, the sale of any property for more than $7,500,000 would require permission from the Vatican, according to canon law.
"The pope did not consent to the sale of the property to Hollister and there was no written approval from the Holy See or the archbishop," Bowick wrote.
Archdiocese lawyer Kirk Dillman argued during closing arguments that Hollister wanted to prevent Perry from buying the property and kick off a legal fight "to wear down" the church in the hopes the singer would back out of the deal.
"There is no question that Dana Hollister knew what she did was wrong and willfully did it anyway," Dillman said.
Dillman also argued that Hollister should have known the church and the pope had final say on who would get the property.
"It is not nice to mess with the Holy See and that was what she was doing," he said.
Geibelson, Hollister's attorney, said Hollister believed her lawyers and the nuns were correct when they said they had the right to sell the property.
He cited testimony that Callanan, gave this week in which she said the nuns were to blame for the confusion over who had the right to sell the property.
"We got her in this mess," Callanan said in court.
He also implored the jury to examine the accounting behind the legal fees, saying they were excessive.
"There were a bunch of lawyers who exploited this lawsuit to bill a whole bunch of time," he said.
Perry and the archdiocese are still working out the terms of the deal to sell her the property.
Perry has to find a building to replace the Cardinal Timothy Manning House of Prayer for Priests, a 24-bed structure on the property that is used as a retreat, archdiocese spokeswoman Adrian Marquez Alarcon said.