Judge Asks Alleged Rape Victim If She Closed Her Legs. Judicial Ethics Panel Asks Judge To Step Down.

This is some truly upsetting horse hockey.

In 2016, a woman appeared in the courtroom of New Jersey Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. seeking a restraining order against a man she says sexually assaulted her. Russo took this as an invitation to interrogate the woman about what she could have done to prevent the alleged attack. Talk about some victim blaming BS. The details of the exchange are distressing:

According to a transcript of the exchange, when the woman described her encounter with the man, Russo asked her, “Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?”

When the woman answered affirmatively and said one method would be to run away, Russo continued, “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”

What’s even worse, is after the proceeding (where Russo denied the protective order), he continued to joke about it with courtroom staff.

Now a three-judge panel has recommended Russo be removed from office for “severe misconduct” following multiple incidents, including the “close your legs” comment. Some of the other improper conduct the panel found, as reported by the Asbury Park Press:

The panel also found beyond a reasonable doubt that Russo used his position as a judge to attempt to influence the scheduling of a guardianship hearing in Burlington County involving his son, that he failed to recuse himself in a spousal support matter involving a couple he went to high school with, and that he had improper communications with only one of two parties to a paternity matter.

This isn’t the first look into Russo’s conduct. In 2018, the state supreme court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct held hearings on the same incidents as the panel. Though the Committee found improper behavior, same as the panel, they were split on the punishment, with the majority recommending a three-month suspension, and the minority holding out for a six-month suspension. Despite those recommendations, the state supreme court instituted removal proceedings and Russo was suspended, without pay, pending the outcome of the proceedings. Russo objected to this harsher penalty, which is something the three-judge panel addressed when making their recommendation:

Russo contended no judge has ever been removed from the bench when the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recommended a lesser sanction. The three-judge panel responded that Russo’s testimony “lacked candor, fabricated after-the-fact explanations for events, and displayed a lack of integrity that is unworthy of judicial office.”

The state supreme court has scheduled hearings on the disciplinary recommendation for March 30 and 31.

headshotKathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).

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