A New Jersey judge who asked a rape victim if she could have "closed her legs" during her assault has been removed from the judiciary and permanently barred from holding a position on the bench.
The New Jersey Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision Tuesday removing former Ocean County Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. from the bench and permanently barring him from presiding over a state courtroom again because of “repeated and serious acts of misconduct,” NJ.com reported.
A panel of three judges had recommended in January to dismiss Russo for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct — centering around “wholly unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate" questions directed toward a rape victim petitioning for a restraining order against her alleged assailant in 2016.
"Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?” Russo asked the woman, according to a transcript obtained by NJ.com.
After the woman responded, “Run away or try to get away,” Russo then went on to float questions that implied the victim didn't try hard enough to fend off her assailant.
“Block your body parts?” Russo asked. “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
Russo denied the restraining order request and went on to make light of the hearing with his staff, according to The Asbury Park Press.
"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," Russo told his staff according to a recording obtained by the Supreme Court.
"Did you hear that sex stuff?'' Russo also asked his staff following the hearing, the Asbury Park Press reported.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that it would be "inconceivable" for Russo to oversee any domestic violence or rape cases as a judge. “No reasonable victim could have confidence in a court system were he to preside over those kinds of cases again,” Rabner wrote in the decision dismissing Russo..
Russo has previously apologized for his comments but contended he was attempting to re-engage a "demoralized" witness with his questions, but the Supreme Court dismissed this defense.
“Judges set the tone for a courtroom. Especially when it comes to sensitive matters like domestic violence and sexual assault, that tone must be dignified, solemn, and respectful, not demeaning or sophomoric. (Russo) failed in that regard,” Rabner wrote.
In addition to his behavior toward a rape victim, a judicial panel also found beyond a reasonable doubt that Russo used his position as a judge to attempt to influence the scheduling of a hearing involving his son, according to the Asbury Park Press.
Officials also found that Russo did not recuse himself in a matter involving a couple with whom he went to high school, and that he threatened a mother involved in a paternity matter with financial sanctions because she was reluctant to provide her address to the court.
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