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.
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.