Bishop Tod Brown of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange does not admit guilt for a criminal charge of being in contempt of court.
The case may be the first time a judge has considered whether to hold a sitting Roman Catholic bishop in contempt, according to a review of past cases by The Associated Press.
The contempt hearing was originally sought by attorneys who represent an alleged sexual abuse victim. They complained that Brown had sent a high-ranking church official to Canada for medical treatment before he could be fully deposed in the case.
The lawyers had expected the judge to dismiss their contempt filing because the sexual abuse lawsuit that led to it settled last week. It was one of four sexual abuse lawsuits settled last week for nearly $7 million (4.99 million EUR).
But Brown's attorney insisted on going forward to "clear the bishop's name."
Msgr. John Urell, who handled allegations of sexual misconduct at the diocese, was sent to the Southdown Institute in Ontario, Canada, on Sept. 6, a week after he broke down during his deposition.
Brown testified that he made the decision to send Urell out of the country although he knew Urell "had given a deposition and was going to be called back for further deposition."
Brown said on Friday that he did not violate a court order by sending Urell away. He said he sent the monsignor to Canada because the institute offered the best care for clergy members, and they could take Urell immediately.
The case that led to the hearing involves a 27-year-old woman who alleges that she was abused by assistant basketball coach Jeff Andrade while she was a 16-year-old student at Mater Dei High School, one of the diocese's two parochial high schools.
Attorneys for the plaintiff, Christina Ruiz, won the right to introduce evidence at trial about sexual abuse allegations leveled at Mater Dei employees during the decade-long span that Andrade worked at the school.
Plaintiff attorney Venus Soltan said that Urell's testimony was critical to Ruiz's case. She accused Brown of trying to prevent him from giving damaging testimony by sending him out of the country.
The diocese also settled three other cases last week, all involving lay staff and teachers. Two targeted choir directors and the third accused a coach and teacher at Santa Margarita High School.