Bishop confirms new plan to sell Newport’s St. James church site while he awaits ruling on misconduct allegations
A bishop awaiting the decision of an ecclesiastical panel on allegations of misconduct related to his attempted sale of St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach confirmed that he has entered a second sales contract with a developer for the property, with escrow set to close July 3.
An attorney for Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles told the hearing panel Thursday that Bruno entered a contract with Newport Beach-based Burnham-Ward Properties in May.
The sale price and plans for the property at 3209 Via Lido were not disclosed.
In an email, Bruno’s attorney Julie Dean Larsen told the panel that the bishop didn’t initially share information about the sale because of a confidentiality agreement.
“Earlier today, (Burnham-Ward and Bruno) agreed to modify the confidentiality agreement and are waiting on documentation of the modification, which (Bruno) will provide to the hearing panel,” she wrote.
The panel has not yet issued a ruling following a three-day misconduct hearing in March that focused on Bruno’s attempts two years ago to sell the St. James property.
The hearing panel reprimanded Bruno earlier this month, warning him to not attempt another sale of the church.
The Rt. Rev. Herman Hollerith IV, the panel president, said in a June 17 statement that a sale before the panel rendered its ruling in the misconduct hearing would be “disruptive, dilatory and otherwise contrary to the integrity of this proceeding.”
A congregation member tipped the panel to the current pending sale on June 9, triggering the admonition.
In 2015, Bruno committed to selling the St. James site for $15 million to a developer that wanted to raze the church and build luxury townhomes. Bruno changed the locks on the church that summer.
The deal fizzled after the developer’s investment partner dropped out, but the church remains locked. Members now worship in a community room at Newport Beach City Hall.
The congregation filed an ecclesiastical complaint not long after its eviction. Members alleged that Bruno was deceptive and unbecoming of a clergyman when he tried to sell the church site and that he didn’t have permission of the diocesan government to do so.
Larsen wrote in her email to the hearing panel’s legal counsel that the diocesan government granted and reaffirmed authorization for a sale in November.
If Bruno does not sign documents to close escrow, the buyer can terminate the agreement.
The hearing panel’s secular legal advisor has requested all relevant documents, including copies of the sales contract, the confidentiality agreement and modification, the diocesan government’s authorization and other correspondence between Bruno and Burnham-Ward or their representatives.
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