In 2016, New Jersey Superior Court Judge John Russo told a woman she could have closed her legs to avoid being sexually assaulted when she sought a restraining order against her alleged rapist, according to NJ.com. Now, a state judicial panel is recommending that the judge be suspended for three months, NJ.com reports. The court will hold a final hearing on the matter of Russo's conduct in July, according to the Associated Press.
Russo made the comments during a 2016 hearing, according to NJ.com, regarding a woman's attempts to get a restraining order against the man she alleged had raped her. According to a transcript of the hearing cited by the New Jersey Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, Russo asked the woman, "do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?"
In response, the woman listed physically harming an attacker, telling them no, telling them to stop, and running away as possible courses of action, according to the transcript quoted in the panel's ruling. Russo then asked if she could think of anything else, and she said she couldn't, according to the transcript.
"Block your body parts?" Russo responded, as the transcript showed. "Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?" Russo ultimately denied the woman's request for a restraining order, according to the ruling.
On Thursday, the state Supreme Court's advisory committee released its ruling on Russo's behavior and how, if at all, he ought to be reprimanded him. The nine-judge panel wrote in its ruling that his comments to the woman in question displayed "an emotional immaturity wholly unbefitting the judicial office and incompatible with the decorum expected of every jurist."
"[Russo]'s questioning of the plaintiff in this manner, to include hypotheticals, was wholly unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate given the irrelevance of such information to a determination of whether a [restraining order] should issue under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act," the panel wrote in its ruling.
In addition to his comments to the woman, the panel also reviewed three other complaints of judicial misconduct against Russo regarding separate cases, and ruled he had violated New Jersey's code of judicial conduct in all of them.
Although all of the judges on the panel recommended that Russo be suspended, they disagreed on the length of his suspension. Writing for the majority, five judges on the panel recommended a suspension of three months, while the other four concluded that six months would be more appropriate, according to the ruling.
Russo has been the subject of many complaints by various New Jersey officials since becoming a judge in 2015, including allegations of physical aggression, sexual harassment, racist comments and four separate complaints of judicial misconduct, the Asbury Park Press reports. In April 2017, Superior Court Judge Marlene Lynch Ford stripped him of his judicial duties after he refused to undergo a mental health evaluation.
In addition, Russo was sued for sexual harassment by a former clerk in mid-March, Law.com reports; he counter-sued the state for discrimination after being removed from the bench in 2017, according to NJ.com. He was reassigned to Burlington County civil court in November 2018.
Russo has not publicly responded to the sexual harassment case or many of the other allegations. Bustle has reached out to Amelia Carolla, one of Russo's attorneys, for comment on the sexual harassment case and allegations of judicial misconduct. Carolla has told the Asbury Park Press that Russo "believes he’s been discriminated against because of his association with his disabled son," and that "it’s very clear that there’s some retaliation happening."