Why Maria Rullo Schinderle should never be a judge

Just when I thought things couldn’t get stranger, this happened:

The leading hench(wo)man in the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Orange may be a judicial nominee.

When I first got word that California Governor Jerry Brown had thrown Maria Rullo Schinderle’s name in the hat of potential nominees for superior court judge, I was floored. Directly on the heels of his church-influenced veto of SB 131, Brown is nominating one of the most questionable Catholic church attorneys in California for a judgeship.

Victims and those who support victims should be outraged.

This woman must never become a judge
This woman must never become a judge

Let’s go through some of the reason why Brown should immediately remove Schinderle’s name from consideration:

1) She’s actively escaping her own bad press

In nominating forms, Schinderle is listed by her bar name “Maria M. Rullo.” In her workings with the Diocese of Orange, including all of her work fighting victims and acting as a spokesperson, she goes by her married name, “Maria R. Schinderle.” That is reason enough to question her veracity.

Her bar information also lists her as a member of the Busch Law Firm, but there is no listing of her on their website. The Diocese of Orange lists her as General Counsel under the name Maria Rullo Schinderle. So I have to ask: What is her name and where exactly does she work?

Perhaps her name interchangeability is due to the fact that a Google search of Maria Rullo is far more sanitized than the scandalous information that a search for “Maria Schinderle” unearths.

2) She has misrepresented her role as an attorney to manipulate victims and get information that can be used against victims in court.

Schinderle has given herself many titles throughout her years in the Diocese of Orange. Sometimes, she referred to herself as “spokesperson“; other times she was the “Director of Human Resources“; but at all times, she was the chief in-house counsel or general counsel for the bishop.

Why would she do something like this? Well, when she was answering the confidential help line for victims of abuse at the diocese, she certainly didn’t want to say that she was the bishop’s attorney. The toll-free confidential help line was supposed to be answered by a licensed counselor, not the diocese attorney. What she did was unethical and possibly illegal. I was there at meetings where she gave reports on the calls she received on the helpline.

She also needed to change her title at will to neutralize potential problems. When I first met with her in 2001/2002, she told me that she was the HR director, not once telling me that she was an attorney. Instead of informing me that I may have legal rights, she offered me a job at the diocese. Instead of telling me that she had full access to my file and that all of my allegations against choir teacher Thomas Hodgman were, in fact, true, she told me that she found “no evidence” of my allegations. She even said she had spoken with Lu Dominguez, one of the administrators involved, who denied everything. Then Schinderle said, “Well, Joelle. You were 16.”

When my file was eventually released—a file she had full access to—it contained Hodgman’s signed confession and a post-dated memo from Dominguez saying that she knew about the abuse all along, but decided to not report it.

3) Her demeanor is less than judicial

A 2004 OC Weekly article said that Maria Rullo Schinderle “operates ‘a reign of terror’ and ‘uses spies, private investigators and any other means that get at people to keep dissidents in line.” While you could say that it’s just nasty reporting on the part of the Weekly, the comments section of the original article does not have a single comment in the defense of Schinderle.

4) Schinderle knew more about abusers than any other lay person in the diocese.

For years, Schinderle sat on the “Sensitive Issues Committee,” the pre-lay review board group in charge of reviewing allegations of abuse. This group, of which John Urell was also a member, was allowed access to the secret files of priests with known problems of abusing children.

The best case in point is Father Michael Pecharich. The press release that the diocese issued (with Maria Schinderle as a contact) when Pecharich was removed as pastor referred to a single incident 19 years previous. The truth is far more nefarious—documents released showed that Rullo Schinderle and the diocese knew about numerous allegations of abuse, but chose to NOT disclose them to the public or the press.

5) Schinderle was the Diocese’s “minder” of predator clerics.

Schinderle is a parishioner at St. Edward the Confessor in Dana Point, one of the Diocese of Orange’s most beautiful churches, with ocean views and wealthy parishioners. So, when predator clerics John Lenihan and Denis Lyons (predator priest Henry Perez and Gerald Plesetz were before her time) were assigned to the parish while Schinderle was working hard on the Sensitive Issues Committee … one cannot help but assume they were sent there under her “watchful eye.”

6) Schinderle does not cooperate with law enforcement 

When the Orange County District Attorney’s office prosecuted Denis Lyons for child molestation, Shinderle refused to cooperate. It was only after a scrappy deputy DA started issuing subpoenas and “shook up the diocese,” that Shinderle decided to cooperate.

From The City Pages:

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office was more than happy to take (Patrick) Wall on board. He met Heather Brown, a deputy DA, at a fundraiser and offered his services for free in the prosecution of Denis Lyons, a former priest accused of four felony counts of lewd acts with a child under 14.

Wall instructed Brown on the specific types of documents she needed to unearth in subpoenas, and shook up the diocese in the process. Lyons pleaded took a plea deal and received a year in jail rather than fight the charges.

“Without him, I would have never known the people involved in the cover-up,” Brown says of Wall. “They play little word games. If you don’t use the right vernacular, in their mind they’re justified in not giving you that file.”

7) Schinderle didn’t report crimes that she knew about.

Schinderle had intimate knowledge of child sex abuse cases involving John Lenihan, Denis Lyons, Albert Schildknecht, Michael Pecharich, and numerous others. None of these were immediately reported to the police. What crimes does she know about that have not made it into the media?

I could go on and on, but it’s time for action.

You can write Governor Brown via his website  or call his office at (916) 445-2841.

You can tell give him the reasons above as to why Maria Rullo Schinderle must never be a judge. In fact, considering the evidence above, it’s surprising that she is a member of the California Bar at all. The California Bar complaint form can be accessed here.

No judge is perfect, but our judges must uphold the highest of standards. There is no room for ethical ambiguity, moral turpitude, or other possibly criminal behavior.

Maria Rullo Schinderle does not deserve to be a judge, and the people of Orange County deserve far better.

7 thoughts on “Why Maria Rullo Schinderle should never be a judge

  1. All of this horrifies me. That someone could defend such horrific actions and then try to hide them sickens me. Having come close to becoming a victim of a pedophile priest when I was 11 and finally finding out that he too was sent from parish to parish for years and that the catholic church covered his crimes before he was finally prosecuted is a crime in itself. Thank God Ms. Rullo-Schinderle was not appointed a judge. although everyone is certainly allowed legal representation, that someone who was representing the church and its perpetrators thinking she should be a judge is nutty. Once again, victims of crime are swept under the rug, in the name of the catholic church. I have absolutely no regrets for leaving the so called “only true” church 40 years ago.

  2. Let me comment as a lawyer. While I would not like some of the tactics that Schinderle has used if I had her as an opposing counsel, they are not enough to find contemptible in a legal sense. Every attorney has a duty to be a zealous advocate for their client. So, as an example, if a subpoena comes worded with some “wiggle room,” it would arguably be malpractice not to take advantage of that. You HAVE to make it hard for the other side to do their job. The US court system is adversarial, so a lawyer does not have to be “fair” – they have to represent their clients. I have known a lot of attorneys who really, really, really stretch the boundaries of legal ethics, but will never be held accountable.

    Now, let me comment as a lawyer AND a devout Catholic AND a former parishioner in the Diocese of Orange, mostly under the time when Bishop Brown held the reins. Don’t make her a judge. I hold judicial officers to a higher standard than attorneys and have the expectation that their impartiality, intelligence, and morals are impeccable. My biggest problem with someone like her becoming a judge is her association with Bishop Tod Brown, whom I utterly distrust. I do not think he kept the best interests of the diocese, or its people, in mind – including the good priests who were not part of his inner circle. The tactic he used with John Urell’s deposition just smells to high holy heaven, placing him outside the jurisdiction of the United States – and the reach of the Court – in the middle of it for “health reasons.” And after nailing his “Covenant to the Faithful” to a church door – a symbolic act that I found distasteful – he transferred a priest to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after plans to place him on administrative leave in Orange for conduct towards a teen girl, but never disclosed it and likely did that to protect the donations from that priest’s family.

    If my boss is doing that . . . I’m walking. Can’t say anything due to attorney/client privilege, but I don’t have to be part of it.

    BTW, I used to be very close friends with a priest in Orange who always told me that St. Edward the Confessor in Dana Point is where “fuck ups” are sent. This is not to imply that any priest assigned there is suspect, though; I wonder if a priest gets assigned there, if he thinks, “What did I do wrong?”

  3. I think it is the governor who we really need to worry about, if he is the one recommending her appointment as a judge. He certainly has the ability to appoint other like minded individuals to the bench and he has already shown great deference to church leaders when he rejected SB 131.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree she must never, never be a judge and all Californians must act, but I have no doubt the governor knows well who she is and what she has and has not done, so if he is the one behind advancing her to the bench the Californians have a much bigger problem.

    1. This is one of the most shocking pieces of information released to date. There are enough public civil court records to evidence this woman should not even be an attorney, never mind a Judicial officer in a black robe. Obviously, Rullo/Schinderle, whatever she calls herself has a very high opinion of herself and for protecting the Catholic Church from criminal and civil court sanctions. She believes that just because the Diocese of Orange was the first in the US to settle lawsuits for $100 million, she is responsible…. to Maria Rull Schinderle and Governor Brown…..THIS JUDICIAL APPOINTMENT IN ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA WOULD BE DISASTROUS! Children and families deserve integrity and fairness, not a woman in a black robe terrorizing and abusing power, something she has aready shown the world during her time as spokesperson, HR Director and General Counsel for the Diocese of Orange.

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