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Judge hears arguments in battle over Katy Perry’s purchase of convent

Sister Catherine Rose, left, and Sister Rita Callanan at the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary retreat in Los Feliz in 2015. The order made a deal to sell the property to restaurateur Dana Hollister, but the Archdiocese of Los Angeles says that only it has the authority to sell the property, which it intends to do to singer Katy Perry.

Sister Catherine Rose, left, and Sister Rita Callanan at the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary retreat in Los Feliz in 2015. The order made a deal to sell the property to restaurateur Dana Hollister, but the Archdiocese of Los Angeles says that only it has the authority to sell the property, which it intends to do to singer Katy Perry.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday heard arguments ahead of a decision that could settle the fight involving pop star Katy Perry, the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese, a successful restaurateur and an order of nuns over the sale of a convent in Los Feliz.

Judge Stephanie Bowick will soon make a pivotal ruling in the convoluted legal battle, which centers on who has the legal authority to sell the villa-style hilltop property, which spans several acres and features birds'-eye views of downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary contend that they have the legal authority to sell the property, which is among the assets of the order’s nonprofit institute.

The nuns claimed their sale agreement with restaurateur Dana Hollister for $15.5 million was legal.

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The Los Angeles Archdiocese, however, has fought to stop the sale, contending that the church has exclusive legal authority over the property and that the nuns’ sale was unauthorized. The archdiocese’s agreement to sell the convent to Perry -- for $14.5 million in cash -- is legally binding, the archdiocese argued.

Bowick is expected to rule in the coming weeks on two motions that seek to invalidate the sisters’ agreement with Hollister.

One of the motions, part of a complaint filed by the archdiocese, argues that the nuns had no authority to sell the property and the sale must be voided. The church and Perry argue that the nuns failed to secure the approval of Archbishop Jose Gomez.

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Attorney Michael Hennigan, who represents the archdiocese, said that Gomez, not the sisters, controls the order’s nonprofit institute.

The second motion, part of a separate complaint filed by Perry’s company, Bird’s Nest, asks the judge to give Perry the sole right to purchase the property.

An attorney for two of the nuns, John Scholnick, argued that more evidence should be gathered before a ruling is made.

Perry’s attorney, Eric Rowen, though, said that Hollister and the sisters were attempting to stall.

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The sisters, Rowen argued, conceded that they did not oversee the institute when they withdrew a separate legal action that challenged the authority of the archbishop.

“All they want to do is live another day,” he said.

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Scholnick said that withdrawing the legal action was a strategic decision and that the sisters could refile after more evidence is gathered.

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Hennigan said that if they prevail, the church and Perry would ask for damages.

Decisions on the motions are expected within 60 days.

For more Los Angeles civil court news, follow @sjceasar

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