A New Jersey Judge Asked A Woman If She Tried Closing Her Legs To Fend Off Sexual Assault
According to Asbury Park Press, the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct filed four complaints of judicial misconduct against State Superior Court Judge John F. Russo Jr. in New Jersey on Monday. One of the complaints says that while presiding over a 2016 case, the New Jersey judge asked a woman alleging sexual assault if she closed her legs in order to thwart the alleged incident.
The judicial board shared a transcript of the question in which Russo asked, "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?" According to the transcript, the woman said running away was an option. Russo followed up with, "Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?"
Per Asbury Park Press, the judicial board said that the woman was present in court to file a restraining order against a man she accused of raping her, threatening to hurt her daughter and burn her house down, verbally abusing her, and taking her personal possessions from her against her will. The judicial board said Russo's treatment of the victim was inappropriate and violated judicial conduct. It added that Russo did not act like an impartial judge but took on the role of defense counsel against the accused attacker by asking those questions.
In response to the accusation of misconduct, Russo's attorney David Corrigan stated on Wednesday that the New Jersey is prepared for a hearing. "Judge Russo looks forward to a public hearing in which he will be able to respond to the allegations against him," he said. "We have respect for the process as well as the advisory committee on judicial conduct, and therefore won't comment further."
In addition to asking an alleged sexual assault victim if she knew how to close her legs to stop from being assaulted, Russo is accused of three other instances of violations of judicial code. One of the complaints says Russo tried to use his judicial power to change the schedule for a personal legal matter in Burlington County, New Jersey.
Russo is also accused of failing to recuse himself from a spousal support hearing in which he said that he knew both husband and wife, as well as conducting improper communication with one parent in a paternity case. Due to these claims of violations, as well as refusing to submit to a mental evaluation exam, Russo was sent on a paid administrative leave.
The judge, who earns $165,000 annually according to Asbury Park Press, was told to submit to a mental health exam at the order of Ocean County Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford. According to Ford, Russo behaved inappropriately for a judge and once allegedly threw a file at his law clerk. In April, Ford reportedly said,
There have been several incidents in which Judge Russo made threatening or bizarre statements; exhibited explosive fits of rage; lacked appropriate courtroom demeanor or reasonable legal competence in the field of law assigned to him, and otherwise exhibited extreme emotional immaturity.
Russo responded to Ford's accusation by filing a workplace discrimination lawsuit against her and Superior Court Judge Madelin F. Einbinder, accusing of discriminating against him because he has a son with Down syndrome.
According to Russo's attorney, the judge has 20 days to respond to the accusations leveled against him. After that, a public hearing will take place, per Corrigan, and that's when Russo's fate as a judge will be decided. It's not clear whether any disciplinary action will be taken against him. If the judicial conduct committee finds Russo indeed guilty of violating judicial code of conduct, the New Jersey judge's punishment could be a formal rebuke from the committee or complete dismissal from his position.