New Jersey Judge Who Asked Woman If She Closed Her Legs To Prevent Assault Was Removed

New Jersey Judge Who Asked Woman If She Closed Her Legs To Prevent Assault Was Removed

The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously decided that John F. Russo Jr. should be removed from the bench immediately.

Image Source: Getty Images/boonchai wedmakawand (Representative)

After a New Jersey Superior Court judge asked a woman if she closed "her legs" to prevent a sexual assault, he was removed from his position. The state’s highest court came to the conclusion that the behavior of John F. Russo Jr. made it "inconceivable" to be allowed to handle sensitive cases of domestic violence and sexual assault. According to the New York Times, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously decided that the judge in question should be removed from the bench, a decision which was effective immediately. The decision to remove Russo, who was serving in Ocean County, was based on his "exchange with the woman and three other violations of judicial conduct codes," said the court according to the outlet. 


The incident unfolded in May 2016, when the woman was presented before Judge Russo. She requested to extend a restraining order against a man who was accused of sexual assault by her. The man, who threatened her life, had also made inappropriate comments to their kid, revealed the woman according to the New York Times. In the due course of the hearing, Judge Russo asked the woman, "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?" To this, the unidentified woman responded, "Yes." Asking her to explain, the judge continued, "How would you do that?"




The woman then explained how she would attempt to physically harm her attacker and say "no," if they tried to force themselves on her. But Judge Russo asked, "What else?" She would ask the attacker to stop, replied the woman to which Russo again asked, " What else?" That when the woman said she would run away. "Run away, get away. Anything else?" continued Russo. "Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?" When the woman said she did not alert the police until later, Judge Russo continued his string of questions and asked if she tried to stop the man or attempted to leave and how the man stopped her from doing what she had allegedly accused him of. 



Defending his actions at a disciplinary hearing Judge Russo said he was merely trying to push the woman to become "re-enraged" as she gave her testimony, so she would provide more information about her complaint, per court documents. "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," said Russo. In the May 26 ruling Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote, "No witness, alleged victim or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law," adding, "The questions also shamed the alleged victim by intolerably suggesting she was to blame."



Addressing the case, Justice Rabner noted that, "She did so without needing any assistance from the trial judge to express herself." Following the hearing, the woman was not granted a restraining order and Judge Russo also made a "problematic" comment in the presence of his staff after the woman gave her testimony. Russo had said that "as an exotic dancer" the woman should have been aware of how to prevent such unwanted advances. "I am the master of on the record being able to talk about sex acts with a straight face," he told his staff. 



The state's Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct came to the conclusion last year that Judge Russo should be placed on suspension without pay for three months due to his remarks and three other violations. The judicial conduct committee agreed that Russo's "questioning of the plaintiff in this manner, to include hypotheticals, was wholly unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate" and that it could "re-victimize the plaintiff." In a separate incident, he failed to recuse himself in a case that involved a man he knew from high school. Judge Russo frequented a pizza parlor owned by the man who was accused of not paying child support. During the hearing, he reduced the amount the man owed from $10,000 to $300. 



For the third count, Russo had threatened a woman with " financial penalties and a loss of credibility" in a paternity case after she said she was scared of providing him her address. "We’re all going to find you," he said in a courtroom filled with people. The final case involved Judge Russo having a nine-minute conversation about "paternity testing" with a woman in the absence of the father, a plaintiff in the case." Initially, he admitted to his wrongdoings in the last two counts but denied the rest. Later a three-judge panel determined that Judge Russo should be removed from his office. "Judges set the tone for a courtroom," wrote Justice Rabner. "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. Respondent failed in that regard."

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