A New Jersey judge who asked an alleged rape survivor if she had attempted to ward off the attack by closing her legs during a restraining order case in 2016 had a complaint filed against him Monday by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
Superior Court of New Jersey Judge John F. Russo Jr. is alleged to have violated judicial conduct in several other instances as well.
Russo made the comments during a 2016 hearing for a woman who was seeking a restraining order against a man after he allegedly physically and verbally abused her, threatened to burn her house down, stole from her, threatened to take her daughter away from her, and forced her to have sex with him against her will, according to the complaint.
Though the woman was not pressing charges against the defendant regarding the alleged rape, Russo forced her to describe how the attack unfolded in detail:
RUSSO: Well, you have to tell me about it.
WOMAN: Well, we got back from Home Depot and—
RUSSO: About what time?
WOMAN: It was, I'm not really sure about the time. It might've been around maybe one, two o'clock. And we did have sex against my will, but I'm not pressing charges against it.
RUSSO: Right. But you have to tell me what happened.
WOMAN: Well, he—
RUSSO: I understand that you're not pressing charges, but that's not what we're dealing with here.
WOMAN: Yeah. Okay. Okay.
RUSSO: So you have to tell me what happened.
WOMAN: Okay. Well, we got back from Home Depot and I made a joke, saying, "What time does your wife come home? We have a couple minutes." And next thing I know, that's what happened. So I was like, you know, I wasn't planning on having sex with him. So, you know what I mean?
RUSSO: No, I don't.
WOMAN: I don't know how to make it any clearer. I — we had sex, but it was against my will. I wasn't planning on having sex with him. So he was like — we were standing in the kitchen and he pulled my pants down, and that's what happened.
During the defense attorney's cross examination, Russo stepped in to take over asking the questions, which led to his inquiry about keeping her legs closed to avoid the assault.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Okay. Would it be fair to say that you got many unwanted advances from men that were overly sexual during your time as a dancer, correct?
RUSSO: Objection. Where are we going here?
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That she's more capable of asserting herself in a situation where she's confronted by somebody with unwanted sexual advances.
RUSSO: Maybe ask the question. See what she gives you, and see if you need to go...
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Would it be fair to say, Ms. R., that you are capable of asserting yourself against unwanted sexual advances?
WOMAN: I guess so. I don't really know.
RUSSO: I'm sorry, but, "I guess so," is not an answer. Do you understand the question?
WOMAN: Not really, I don't understand the question.
RUSSO: I'll ask the question then.
RUSSO: Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?
RUSSO: How would you do that?
WOMAN: I'd probably physically harm them somehow.
RUSSO: Short of physically harming them?
WOMAN: Tell them no.
RUSSO: Tell them no. What else?
WOMAN: To stop.
RUSSO: To stop. What else?
WOMAN: And to run away or try to get away.
RUSSO: Run away, get away. Anything else?
WOMAN: I — that's all I know.
RUSSO: Block your body parts?
RUSSO: Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?
According to a complaint filed last year by Ocean County Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford, Russo's boss, the judge had exhibited problematic behavior ongoing -- including throwing a file folder at a female clerk and asking if all of her children had the same father.
Russo responded to the allegations by filing a workplace discrimination lawsuit against Ford and his other bosses by claiming that they treated him unfairly because he has a son with disabilities.