County judge convicted in St. Theresa School basketball dispute

KENILWORTH, NJ — A Union County Superior Court judge has been found guilty by a Middlesex counterpart of defiant trespass in the latest development of a highly publicized dispute between St. Theresa School and the parents of girl who sued to play on the boys basketball team.

Criminal charges against Judge Theresa Mullen were filed as part of a legal battle between her family and the school, which expelled Mullen’s two daughters after she and her husband, Scott Phillips, sued the school. St. Theresa School had eliminated its girls basketball team due to lack of interest, so Mullen and Phillips sued in 2016 to force the school to allow their daughter, Sydney, play on the boys team.

The Feb. 27 ruling on the trespassing by Judge Alberto Rivas is too recent to know what, if any, sanctions Theresa Mullen, a judge in Union County Family Court, will face, according to New Jersey Judiciary spokesperson MaryAnn Spoto. While Spoto initially said she would notify LocalSource when a determination occurred, she said in a subsequent call that the New Jersey Judiciary would no longer comment on the matter, but issue updates as necessary.

Mullen and Phillips prevailed last year when the court said their daughter must be allowed to play, but Sydney and her sister Kaitlyn were later expelled from the school. The school’s handbook states that any student involved in litigation against the school will be asked to leave.
“If a parent implicates St. Theresa’s in a legal matter, or names St. Theresa’s as a defendant in a civil matter, the parent/guardian will be requested to remove their children immediately from the school,” the handbooks states.

When the parents challenged their daughters’ expulsion, a ruling in August 2017 upheld the expulsion. According to a previous report by LocalSource, Judge Donald A. Kessler said the court lacked the authority to interfere with a private school’s decision.

Mullen’s conviction stems from an incident in which she “flatly refused” to leave the school Feb. 2, 2017, after police and administration requested she do so, according to the opinion by Rivas.

During the bench trial, Mullen acknowledged that she had received a letter from the school superintendent regarding the school’s policy on expulsion. When she went to the school Feb. 2, school officials read her another statement declaring that her children were expelled and demanded that she leave the premises.

“If you refuse to comply then you will be considered trespassing,” the school’s statement read.
However, Mullen indicated that she would not leave. In her defense, Mullen argued that the Rev. Vincent D’Agostino, a school official, explicitly gave her permission to remain in the school so she therefore was not guilty of trespassing.

To support this claim, Mullen also submitted into evidence a video that captured a conversation in the office with school officials and the police chief, the opinion states.

“The judge did not take into account sufficient weight of the video,” Edward Kologi, Mullen’s lawyer, told LocalSource in a March 2 phone interview.
He added that the video shows reasonable doubt as to whether Mullen was allowed to stay on the school property.
Mullen’s sentencing is scheduled for April 4.

Kologi told LocalSource that he will file an appeal following the sentencing.
“The video entirely exonerates her in our view,” he said.

Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Andrea Boulton told LocalSource that the case was heard in Middlesex to alleviate any potential conflict of interest.

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