Jury awards punitive damages in convent lawsuit

LOS ANGELES — A jury that ordered a Silver Lake businesswoman to collectively pay more than $5 million in compensatory damages to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Katy Perry for interfering in the sale of a former Los Feliz convent to the singer assessed nearly $10 million in punitive damages against the restaurant owner Dec. 4.

The Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $6.6 million to the archdiocese and $3.3 million to Perry through her company, the Bird Nest LLC, in the lawsuit against Dana Hollister.

“We’re obviously very pleased,” a smiling attorney Eric Rowen said on behalf of Perry.

Hollister showed little emotion as the verdict was read.

Attorney Michael Geibelson, representing Hollister, said in his final argument Dec. 1 in the punitive damages phase that his client’s assets are just over $4 million, leaving her short of any ability to pay the compensatory damages or punitive damages.

The jury deliberated for an entire day on Nov. 17 before reaching its verdict against Hollister for slander of title, interference with contractual relations and interference with prospective economic advantage. The panel awarded the archdiocese $3.47 million in compensatory damages and $1.57 million to Perry.

The jury also found that Hollister acted with malice, oppression or fraud, triggering the second phase of trial to determine if the archdiocese, the California Institute of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary and Perry should be awarded punitive damages.

Hollister made her purchase of the onetime convent with the cooperation of Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman, who maintained they had the authority to sell the Waverly Drive property to the businesswoman.

Judge Stephanie Bowick later canceled the deal.

Holzman and Callanan are among five members of the institute and are the only members who oppose the sale of their former home to the 33-year-old “Roar” singer. Callanan testified during the trial on behalf of Hollister, saying she and Holzman “got her in this mess … we need to get her out of this mess.”

Hollister testified she believed the Los Angeles archbishop was not opposed to her proposal to buy the former convent and had begun making plans for the future when she was surprised to learn that an offer from Katy Perry was still being considered.

Raphael Avila, a 26-year-old Maywood man who served as jury foreman during both phases of the trial, said he believed Hollister and Holzman said and did things they believed they needed to do in order for the businesswoman to acquire the property, but that the jury had to look at the whole picture.

Asked if he would have liked to have heard testimony from Perry, who never appeared during the trial, Avila said, “It would have been nice,” but added that it was not crucial.

Kirk Dillman, who represents the archdiocese and the institute, said Hollister could have ended things by filling out a quit-claim deed. Instead, she and those around her decided to press the issue further, according to Dillman.

The convent 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 IHM Institute, according to the archdiocese.

After the archdiocese filed the first legal volley against Hollister in June 2015, Perry became part of the litigation when the sisters intervened in the case and named her as a defendant. The singer then filed her own cross-complaint.

The sale to Perry was for $14.5 million, consisting of $10 million in cash and an agreement to provide an alternative property for a house of prayer worth $4.5 million, according to the archdiocese. In contrast, Hollister paid $44,000 and agreed to a contingent promissory note to pay $9.9 million in three years, Dillman said.

Dillman has said Hollister likely never would have gotten the permits for a boutique hotel she proposed for the property and that she could have walked away from the deal if it no longer suited her. But Geibelson, who urged that no punitive damages be awarded, said his client’s dreams of putting a hotel on the former convent site have been “completely wiped out” by the first verdict.


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