Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, California, has entered a not-guilty plea on contempt-of-court charges stemming from a lawsuit involving sexual abuse by diocesan clergy.
Plaintiffs' lawyers in the sex-abuse suit had asked the judge to hold Bishop Brown in contempt because the bishop approved a move to send a key diocesan official out of the country before that official completed his testimony in the connection with the case.
Although the lawsuit was settled last week, Judge Gail Andler surprised many legal observers by moving forward with the contempt proceedings.
If convicted of contempt, Bishop Brown could face a prison sentence. Hearings in the case are expected to take place in December.
Peter Callahan, the attorney for Bishop Brown, told reporters that the bishop wanted to fight the contempt charges, even after the case was closed, in order to "clear the bishop's name." The attorney said that Brown had hoped that he would "have the opportunity to exonerate himself by telling the truth but he didn't get the opportunity" in the course of the lawsuit brought by the abuse victims.
Earlier in the month, Callahan had said that the contempt charges were merely a stalling tactic, employed by lawyers for the plaintiffs in the abuse lawsuit to postpone the court proceedings. He said Bishop Brown was eager to go to trial in the case. Just hours later the diocese announced an out-of-court settlement in which the diocese will pay nearly $7 million in damages to the plaintiffs.