A New Jersey Superior Court judge who asked a woman if she had closed her legs to try to prevent a sexual assault has been ordered removed from the bench by the state’s highest court, which concluded his behaviour made it “inconceivable” that he could ever handle cases of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the judge, John F. Russo Jr., who served in Ocean County, should be removed from the bench “effective immediately.”
“No witness, alleged victim or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in the Tuesday ruling.
Russo could not immediately be reached for comment. His lawyers did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The court said it based its decision on Russo’s exchange with the woman and three other violations of judicial conduct codes. The woman who went before Russo in May 2016 had asked to extend a restraining order against a man whom she accused of sexual assault. She said the man had also threatened her life.
“Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?” Russo asked the woman during a hearing.
“Yes,” she replied. Also Read – Man Killed Daughter And Dump Her In The Forest
“How would you do that?” the judge asked.
The woman said she would try to physically harm the attacker and say “no,” to which Russo asked, “What else?”
The woman said she would ask the person to stop, to which Russo again asked, “What else?”
She then said she would run away.
“Runaway, getaway,” he said. “anything else?”
“Block your body parts?” Russo added. “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
During disciplinary hearings about the case, Russo said that he was trying to help the woman become “reengaged” during her testimony and provide more information about her account, court documents said.
“I was really struggling to find out is this a case where there really is something going on and a witness who’s just not capable of expressing it or is there something else going on,” he said.
Russo did not issue the woman the restraining order she had requested. After the hearing, he also made “problematic” comments in front of his staff, Rabner said in the decision.
In April 2019 the state’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct decided that Russo should be suspended without pay for three months for his remarks from the bench and for the other violations, including his failure to recuse himself from a hearing that involved a man he knew from high school.
The man, who owned a pizza parlour the judge admitted to frequenting, had been accused of failing to pay child support. Russo reduced the amount he owed from $10,000 to $300, according to the ruling.
The committee also said that Russo had threatened a woman in a paternity case with financial penalties and a loss of credibility with the court when she told him she was afraid to give her address.
“‘We’re all going to find you,’ ” Russo said in a crowded courtroom, according to the court documents.
A three-judge panel later also concluded that Russo should be removed from office.