California Court Orders Public Hearing on Church Jurisdiction
A California judge has ordered a rare opportunity for an American businessperson of Jordanian origin to provide open court testimony regarding his grounds for jurisdiction over the Vatican's Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and its highest officials.
The jurisdiction centers on whether a $31 million lawsuit filed in August 2019 against church leaders in the Vatican, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the Catholic church-owned American University of Madaba in Jordan can proceed.
Seryani's case centers on claims of multiple breaches of long-term contracts and the failure to reimburse his extensive financial support for the founding of this University when the University lacked funding to even make its own payroll.
Judge Donald Alvarez, of the Superior Court of California in the County of San Bernardino, ordered on August 16, the holding of an “evidentiary hearing” that is open to the public in the case of Seryani et al vs The Holy See et al.
This hearing requires “live testimony before the court” aimed at deciding whether the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has sufficient "minimum contacts" with California, such that the plaintiff, Benjamin Seryani may proceed with his $31 million lawsuit.
Such depositions are unprecedented in the history of US judicial relations with the Catholic Church. The upcoming court hearing - which will include live testimony for the first time - is scheduled for October 7th, 2022, at 9 am in Department S-23 of the San Bernardino Superior Court.
Each party is expected to present a list of witnesses to the court. “The parties must file and serve (personally or via email) their witness and exhibit list at least fifteen days prior to the hearing.” Objections, if any must be filed, the judge ruled “at least ten court days prior to the hearing.”
Judge Alvarez was provided with “extensive jurisdictional arguments" filed by the parties over the last three years and a massive amount of documentation from Seryani. Judge Alvarez has not yet ruled on the Church's motion to quash Seryani's case that was filed back on October 18th, 2019. However, Judge Alvarez did order Church leaders, including the former Patriarch, His Beatitude Fouad Twal and leaders of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem to be deposed by Seryani's counsel.
Plaintiff's lawyer, Robert Spitz, who is a member of the bar in California, NY, and Washington, DC, as well as admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, publicly stated on May 22nd, 2022 that “substantial evidence supporting both general and specific jurisdiction over the Latin Patriarchate has been provided to the Court.“
It was not clear which witnesses will appear in the California Court for either side.
Neither the plaintiff nor the defendants have responded to questions regarding this hearing.