O.C. Catholic bishop is facing contempt charge
Hoping to clear his name, Bishop Tod D. Brown will face a contempt-of-court hearing to determine whether he violated a judge’s orders when he sent a high-ranking church official out of the country before he could complete his testimony in a sex abuse lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.
On Tuesday, Brown waived his right to an arraignment in a move his attorney said was essentially the same as pleading not guilty to the allegation.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler allowed opening statements from both sides before continuing the hearing until December.
The bishop could face jail time if convicted of the charge.
Mobbed by reporters outside the courtroom and again on the courthouse steps, Brown apologized to the four women who last week settled their sexual abuse cases against the diocese for nearly $7 million.
But he soon found himself face to face with two of the women, who stood close by as Brown and his attorney fielded questions from the news media.
Still angry about how they were treated, Sarah Gray and Christina Ruiz wanted to know more about their cases. Brown did not respond to specific questions and instead apologized again.
“To both of you, and to the other victims, all I can do is repeat once again, my sincerest and deepest and most compassionate apology on the part of the church for what happened to you, which was terrible and sinful and criminal and reprehensible,” Brown said, standing about five feet from them. “I’m just so very sorry it happened.”
Gray thanked Brown and suggested he pass on some of his compassion to attorneys for the diocese who she said subjected her and the other plaintiffs to eight days or more of depositions.
He told her his door was open if she wanted to talk to him in person.
Afterward, Gray said she didn’t know whether Brown had been sincere. She noted that the apology didn’t come until Ruiz publicly asked for one.
She also said she believed the bishop could have reached out directly and more intimately with a phone call, rather than in front of a bank of television cameras.
“I would hope it was sincere, for his own spirituality,” she said.
The contempt issue arose while attorneys were preparing for trial in Ruiz’s lawsuit, which accused former Mater Dei High School assistant basketball coach Jeff Andrade of molesting her for more than a year, starting when she was 15 and a student at the Santa Ana school.
Lawyers representing Ruiz alleged that Brown sent Msgr. John Urell, the chief investigator of sex abuse allegations, to a treatment facility in Canada -- and beyond the reach of a subpoena -- so he would not have to finish a deposition that ended abruptly in July when he broke down in tears after hours of questioning.
The contempt motion was filed after Brown testified in his own deposition that when he made the decision to send Urell to the Southdown Institute in Toronto, he knew the monsignor was going to be called back for further deposition.
During the contempt proceedings Tuesday, diocesan attorney Peter Callahan told the judge that the evidence would show that Brown could not have violated a court order that Urell finish testifying because no such order existed when he made the decision.
Venus Soltan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, maintained that Brown intentionally sent “his right-hand man” out of the country so the diocese could continue to “hide the truth” about what happened to Ruiz and other accusers.
The judge ordered that a subpoena on Urell remain in effect until the contempt hearing resumes Dec. 3.
Urell remains at Southdown for what his personal attorney has said was “acute anxiety disorder” related to his responsibilities investigating allegations of sex abuse.
After the hearing, Brown said he approved of the decision to send Urell to Southdown after a diocesan physician recommended immediate treatment. He acknowledged there were facilities in the U.S. that treated clergy, but said Southdown had a stellar reputation and was able to admit Urell right away.
Callahan said he was disappointed that Andler did not rule on the matter, delaying the bishop’s desire to clear his name.
John Manly, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said he thought in the wake of the $7-million settlement that the contempt motion would have been dismissed if not for the insistence of the other side. He said Callahan’s insistence that the matter be heard is “one more example of the diocese stepping in their own mess.”