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Judge threatens nuns’ attorney with contempt charge

LOS ANGELES — An attorney for two nuns opposed to the sale of a former Los Feliz convent to singer Katy Perry told a judge May 23 that his clients are the ones refusing a court order to turn over business records related to the future comfort and care of the sisters, but the judge said she will hold a hearing next month to see whether the lawyer should be held in contempt.

John Scholnick, on behalf of Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman, told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stephanie Bowick via speakerphone that the nuns told him as recently as May 20 that they were not going to release to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles the documents and associated items covered under an order she issued May 19.

“I do not know where the documents are,” Scholnick said.

But Bowick agreed with archdiocese lawyers that the contempt proceeding should go forward anyway, and she scheduled it for June 3.

“I believe there’s enough to have a hearing,” Bowick said.

Callanan and Holzman are two of five members of the California Institute of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The two favored selling the former convent to businesswoman Dana Hollister instead of the “Roar” singer, but that effort was nullified when Bowick blocked the sale in April.

Lawyers for Hollister and the nuns have asked Bowick to reconsider her decision at a hearing May 24.

The documents and other items sought by the archdiocese have nothing to do with the sale, but instead include institute books, records and accounts needed to see that the nuns receive proper care, archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan said. Bowick’s previous orders nullifying the Hollister sale confirmed the archdiocese has authority over the institute’s assets and affairs, according to Hennigan.

Hennigan said in court that he received an email from one of the nuns stating that she intended to produce the information ordered. He said he believes Scholnick and the sisters were acting “in concert” in disobeying the records production order. Hennigan said he had hoped that attorneys who appeared in court today on Scholnick’s behalf on the contempt issue would have negotiated with him to resolve the dispute.

“I’m astonished that we’re here,” Hennigan said.

Hennigan told Bowick he wants Scholnick to testify during the contempt hearing. However, lawyer Thomas Reichert, on behalf of Scholnick, said he believes his client is entitled to invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer questions.

The proposed sale to Perry would be for $14.5 million, consisting of $10 million in cash and an agreement to provide an alternative property for the house of prayer worth $4.5 million, according to the archdiocese. In contrast, Hollister paid only $44,000 and agreed to a contingent promissory note, Hennigan said.

 

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