A New Jersey judge who was previously suspended for asking a rape victim if she could have prevented her assault by closing her legs was permanently removed from the bench on Tuesday by the state’s Supreme Court.
- NJ.com reported that former Ocean County Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. was barred from ever presiding over a courtroom in New Jersey again due to “repeated and serious acts of misconduct.”
- The justices were unanimous in their decision.
- According to the report, “a three-judge panel recommended in January to remove Russo from the bench for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct on at least four occasions.”
Russo’s most notable offense involved asking “an alleged rape victim a series of questions that the the state’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) described as ‘wholly unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate.’”
- During his questioning of a woman seeking a restraining order against her alleged assailant in 2016, Russo asked: "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?”
- The woman replied “run away or try to get away,” prompting Russo to ask if she could have done anything else to avoid the assault.
- Russo then asked: “Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
Chief Justice Stuart J. Rabner wrote in an opinion on behalf of the court that it would be “inconceivable” for Russo to preside over domestic violence or sexual assault cases after making such comments, NJ.com reported.
“No reasonable victim could have confidence in a court system were he to preside over those kinds of cases again,” the chief justice wrote.
“No witness, alleged victim, or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law,” Rabner wrote. ... “Judges set the tone for a courtroom. Especially when it comes to sensitive matters like domestic violence and sexual assault, that tone must be dignified, solemn, and respectful, not demeaning or sophomoric. (Russo) failed in that regard.”