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Judge taken off bench after asking alleged rape victim to ‘close your legs’

Judge taken off bench after asking alleged rape victim to ‘close your legs’
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One New Jersey judge was suspended from the Superior Court and another’s resignation was accepted after national outrage over their courtroom remarks in separate sex-assault cases.

The state Supreme Court started formal proceedings against Judge John F. Russo Jr., who in a 2016 case in Ocean County questioned an alleged rape victim about what she could have done to defend herself. “Close your legs?” he asked her.

Russo was suspended without pay as he faces a hearing to determine whether he is fit for the bench, according to documents posted to the judiciary’s website. Russo accepted an advisory committee’s finding that he violated rules, including demonstrating “intolerance and insensitivity toward victims of sexual assault,” the high court said. His attorney told the Supreme Court that he was remorseful during a disciplinary hearing in Trenton.

...gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo

Governor Phil Murphy

The high court on Wednesday also accepted the resignation of Judge James G. Troiano in Monmouth County. In a proceeding last year, Troiano declined prosecutors’ request to try a 16-year-old rape suspect as an adult, saying he was “from a good family,” and his college test scores suggested a bright future. An appellate panel in June overturned his ruling.

Those cases — plus another, involving Judge Marcia Silva of Middlesex County — drew national attention, including calls by some New Jersey lawmakers for the judges’ removal.

Silva, in a ruling overturned on appeal last month, told prosecutors that a 12-year-old alleged victim had lost her virginity, but had suffered no “physical or emotional injuries.” As a result, Silva said, it wasn’t appropriate for the 16-year-old suspect to face trial as an adult. The Supreme Court took no action Wednesday with regards to Silva.

Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat who took office in January 2018, said in a statement that he was “gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo.”

The judges’ actions, he said, had threatened New Jersey courts’ reputation “for thoughtful and reasoned opinion, and common decency.”

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