Judge Sends Knapp Trust Dispute to Trial
BOSTON — A CALIFORNIA court last week ruled that a dispute between The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) over rights to trusts worth $100 million will go to trial.
California Superior Court Judge Edward Ross, in Los Angeles Thursday denied the Christian Science Church's motion for a summary judgment that would give it sole rights to the trusts, which were established by the wills of Eloise Knapp and her sister, Bella Mabury.
Judge Ross emphasized that he was not ruling on any of the issues raised in the case. "The only ruling that the court is making is that there are triable issues of material fact and therefore the motion for summary judgment is denied," he said.
In broad terms, the wills named the church as primary beneficiary of the trusts if church officials published a book, "Destiny of The Mother Church," written by Mrs. Knapp's husband, Bliss Knapp, in 1947. Otherwise the trusts would pass to the secondary beneficiaries, Stanford and LACMA.
Publication of the book last year by the Christian Science Publishing Society has caused controversy among Christian Scientists because of Mr. Knapp's unorthodox views regarding church founder Mary Baker Eddy.
Knapp, whose parents had been taught by Mrs. Eddy, held that she was literally the woman described in Chapter 12 of the Biblical book of Revelation, although he wrote that "Christian Scientists need to be careful not to deify this visible idea...." Eddy herself, however, wrote that "the woman in the Apocalypse symbolizes generic man, the spiritual idea of God;..."
Lawyers for Stanford and LACMA argue that the church has not met the wills' requirements. "What the judge has just done, in our mind, is indicate that our position from the beginning, that the church is far from complying, is correct," said Chip Dawlings, a lawyer representing LACMA.
"We are disappointed that it didn't come down in favor of the church, but not disappointed that it will go forward," said Victor Westberg, spokesman for the church in Boston. "The judge said nothing about ruling in favor of one party or the other." Mr. Westberg said church officials are considering whether to appeal.
Ross said that if the parties cannot agree by today on a referee to arbitrate discovery questions for the trial he would appoint one. The next hearing is set for Jan. 28.