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Judges Order New Hearing on Razing St. Vibiana's

Court: Appeals panel refuses to vacate injunction preventing the demolition of the church. Arguments will be heard July 16.

July 04, 1996|JODI WILGOREN and STEPHANIE SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A panel of state appeals court justices ruled late Wednesday that a new hearing is required to determine whether an injunction preventing the demolition of St. Vibiana's Cathedral should remain in place.

In their unanimous ruling, the judges denied the Catholic Church's request that they immediately vacate Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien's ruling last month that could delay demolition for months. But the three judges indicated that they questioned O'Brien's ruling, and ordered oral arguments on the issue July 16.

O'Brien issued a preliminary injunction June 19, ruling that an environmental study was needed before demolition because St. Vibiana's is a city landmark.

Lawyers for the archdiocese celebrated the news of the new hearing. "This is a 10 on a 10 scale," said O'Malley Miller, an attorney working for the church.

"I don't wish to be presumptuous, but this is such good news I can hardly contain myself," added John McNicholas, another archdiocese attorney. "The Court of Appeal would not take all of this time and spend all of these resources if they did not seriously believe that we have a meritorious claim."

Conservancy attorney Jack Rubens, however, also termed the decision a victory, emphasizing the justices refusal to immediately vacate O'Brien's injunction.

"The court has simply decided it wants to have a hearing on the matter. I think it's responsible of them to have a hearing on the matter. The conservancy is confident it will prevail at that hearing," Rubens said. "Certainly it would have been preferable if the court had summarily denied the petition, but . . . I think they want to take advantage of more briefing so they can make a fully informed decision."

Cardinal Roger Mahony wants to replace 120-year-old St. Vibiana's with a $50-million-dollar cathedral complex which would be ready by 2000. Unless he is allowed to begin construction soon, Mahony has threatened to move the archdiocese's headquarters out of downtown--or out of the city of Los Angeles altogether.

Preservationists, however, want to restore the earthquake-damaged building, and are using its designation as a historic-cultural monument to stop--or at least slow--its demise.

Mahony has set July 22 as a deadline for deciding on the fate of the cathedral.

The appellate ruling instructs Judge O'Brien to defend his ruling, but attorneys for both sides said they expect that the church and the conservancy will battle it out at the hearing.

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