Judge Faces Suspension For Asking Alleged Rape Victim If She Closed Her Legs To Prevent It

Judge Faces Suspension For Asking Alleged Rape Victim If She Closed Her Legs To Prevent It

Superior Court Judge John F. Russo Jr. of Ocean County, N.J., has been accused of judicial misconduct by a state committee.

A judge from New Jersey is facing suspension after he asked a woman if she tried to close her legs to prevent an alleged sexual assault. A state committee recommended that he should be suspended.

According to the New York Times, the court advisory committee cited "emotional immaturity" in recommending that Superior Court Judge John F. Russo Jr. of Toms River, New Jersey, be suspended without pay for three months.
The advisory committee's findings were released Wednesday. 



 

Ultimately, Russo’s punishment will be up to the state Supreme Court. All of the committee’s members agreed that four instances of misconduct by Russo were aggravated by comments he made to his court staff following the hearing in which he asked the alleged rape victim whether she tried to fend off the attack by keeping her legs closed. 

A 45-page report from the committee detailed four counts of alleged misconduct.



 

The first focused on an exchange between Judge Russo and the woman who said she had been sexually assaulted, at a hearing in May 2016. The woman was seeking a restraining order against her alleged assailant, a man who she said had also threatened her life and made inappropriate comments to their child.



 

“Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?” Judge Russo asked the woman.

“Yes,” she replied.

“How would you do that?” the judge asked.

The woman said she would try to physically harm the attacker and say “no,” to which Judge Russo asked, “What else?”

The woman said she would ask the person to stop, to which Judge Russo again asked, “What else?”

She then said she would run away.

“Run away, get away,” he said. “Anything else?”

“Block your body parts?” Judge Russo added. “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?” 



 

At the conclusion of that hearing, the courtroom’s recording system was still on after the parties to the dispute left the courtroom, and Russo could be heard saying, “What did you think of that? Did you hear the sex stuff?"

During the banter with his staff, Russo went on to say, “Oh, my God, that was — was that great?" and “What I lack in handwriting skills, I am the master of on the record being able to talk about sex acts with a straight face." 



 

The judicial conduct committee said Judge Russo’s “questioning of the plaintiff in this manner, to include hypotheticals, was wholly unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate” and could “re-victimize the plaintiff.” 

USA Today reports that Five members of the committee, including three retired judges, said Russo’s misconduct was “aggravated considerably" by those comments.
They said the comments “demonstrate an emotional immaturity wholly unbefitting the judicial office and incompatible with the decorum expected of every jurist, regardless of their judicial experience." 



 

In addition to the suspension, the committee recommended that Russo undergo additional training on “appropriate courtroom demeanor" before returning to the bench.

Four of the nine members of the committee thought the punishment should be more severe and recommended a six-month suspension without pay. 



 

This conduct constitutes a significant departure from the courtroom demeanor expected of jurists and impugns (Russo's) integrity and most notably that of the Judiciary," the panel wrote.



 

The committee said Russo's other judicial code violations were:

Using his position as a judge to attempt to influence the scheduling of a guardianship hearing in Burlington County involving his son.
Failing to recuse himself in a spousal support matter involving a couple he acknowledged he went to high school with.
Having improper communications with only one of two parties to a paternity matter. 

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