A wealthy Silver Lake businesswoman took advantage of two aging nuns, who thought they had the authority to sell her their former convent, and "schemed" to prevent Katy Perry from closing a deal to acquire the property, the singer's attorney told a jury Tuesday.
But lawyer Michael Geibelson, on behalf of nightlife maven Dana Hollister, said it was the nuns who convinced his client they had permission to peddle the sprawling former convent and retreat for priests and that her deal was originally for $1 million more than what Perry offered.
In their opening statements in trial of a lawsuit pitting the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the 33-year-old vocalist on one side and Hollister on the other, Geibelson and Perry's lawyer, Eric Rowen, gave the Los Angeles Superior Court panel sharply different views of the deals pitched for the Waverly Drive property.
Archdiocese attorney Kirk Dillman's opening statement Monday paralleled that of Rowen, who said his famous client has spent millions of dollars on attorneys' fees to try and close a deal she thought she had locked in to buy the Loz Feliz property in 2015.
Hollister, having bought another church property for far less than its actual value in the 1990s that she now calls home, wanted to repeat that success, Rowen said. In June 2015, Hollister recorded a grant deed on the Waverly Drive property with the goal of interfering with Perry's $14.5 million deal that had the archbishop's approval, he said.
"This was her action plan," Rowen said, alleging that Hollister "schemed to prevent Katy Perry from acquiring the property."
The archdiocese filed suit against Hollister shortly after she recorded the grant deed, alleging that the businesswoman knew she needed the written authority of the archbishop to buy the property as well as approval from the Vatican. The archdiocese and Perry maintain Hollister's actions forced them to come to court and fight for two years to get the Hollister transaction undone.
Hollister made the purchase through Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman, two of five nuns of the California Institute of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin. The pair maintained they had the authority to sell the property to the businesswoman. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Bowick later canceled the deal.
Geibelson said Callahan and Holzman left a meeting with the archbishop in May 2015 convinced they could sell the property to Hollister and that they relayed that information to Hollister. She may have been mistaken in believing the nuns, but she had no ill intent toward anyone and her recording of a grant deed on the Waverly property was not an attempt to cloud title, Geibelson said.
Lawyers for Perry and the archdiocese have taken what should be a simple case about documents to pad their billing hours, with three of the attorneys charging more than $1,000 an hour, Geibelson said. He added that Perry still has not obtained the final approval she needs from the Vatican to acquire the Waverly property.
Holzman and Callanan are the only members who are against the sale of their former home to Perry. The institute and the archdiocese are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The property has been vacant since 2011 because it became too costly for the retired sisters to maintain and no longer accommodated their physical needs, and the proceeds from any sale of the property would go to the institute, according to the archdiocese.
Perry is seeking compensation from Hollister through a cross-complaint filed under the name of her company, The Bird Nest LLC. Rowen said the entertainer came up with the name because she intends to make the former convent her "nest" and live with her family in a property that left her enamored when she saw it.
"Ms. Perry fell in love with the home," Rowen said.
The archdiocese is seeking about $3.5 million in damages and Perry is asking for about $2 million.
Rowen showed jurors slides of Hollister's current lavish home in Silver Lake, the Paramour, where Franciscan nuns once ran a home for girls. He displayed documents that he said showed Hollister knew she needed the approval of then-Archbishop Roger Mahony and not just the nuns to purchase that property in 1996. By repeatedly delaying the process, Hollister obtained the Paramour at far less than its actual value, he said.
Rowen said the businesswoman took the same tack on the Los Feliz property. Instead of acknowledging Perry had won her bid to buy the Waverly Drive convent, Hollister dug in her heels, he said, and "refused to take `no' for an answer."
Perry's $14.5 million deal includes $10 million in cash, plus another $4.5 million to provide an alternative property for a house of prayer for priests that still has a lease on the Waverly Drive property, according to the archdiocese.In contrast, Hollister paid $44,000 and agreed to a contingent promissory note, archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan has said.
Geibelson said Hollister originally offered $15.5 million, but that the offer was reduced to $10 million because of the uncertainty of the future of the house of prayer. He said that shortly after the terms were agreed upon, the archdiocese sued Hollister.
Perry will not testify or attend the trial, though the singer is in town to perform three dates on her "Witness: The Tour" at Staples Center, Rowen said. Those concerts are tonight, Wednesday and Friday.