A New Jersey judge is apologizing for telling a rape victim she should “close her legs” to stop an unwanted attack.
Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. relayed his remorse for the comments through his attorney during a state Supreme Court disciplinary hearing Tuesday afternoon, according to NJ.com.
“He did not intend to imply that a victim of sexual assault should close her legs to avoid (rape),” attorney Amelia Carolla said. “He know understands that his intentions do not matter. He understands that what matters only is the impact his words had on others. He is remorseful about the hurt that this may have caused the plaintiff.”
The apology comes more than three years after Russo made the comments during a hearing in the Family Division in Ocean County on May 16, 2016, according to the Asbury Park Press.
The victim had been seeking a final restraining order against a man she said had physically and verbally abused her, threatened to burn down her home, and forced her to have unwanted sex.
“Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?” Russo asked during the hearing, according to court transcripts.
The woman described how she could defend herself physically or “try to get away”, but Russo had some other suggestions.
“Block your body parts?” he said. “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
Later in off-the-record comments after the testimony, a recording continued to pick up disturbing comments made by the judge.
“As an exotic dancer, one would think you would know how to fend off unwanted sexual …” he can be heard saying. There was also laughter heard on the tape.
Russo is now facing disciplinary action for the comments as well as three other counts of judicial misconduct.
Only a high court has the ability to discipline a judge and can issue disciplinary action that ranges from a reprimand to a suspension or dismissal.
Five members of the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recommended in April that Russo be suspended for three months without pay for the infractions, while four of the members felt the suspension should be closer to six months.
In addition to the public comments he made to the rape victim, Russo allegedly used his position as a judge to try to influence guardianship matters involving his son, failed to recuse himself from determining spousal support for a couple he knew in high school and called a woman about a paternity matter without the father in the case being present on the call.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner questioned whether Russo should be able to assume his duties as a judge in family matters.
“Would an informed, objective member of the public have confidence in the judicial system if Judge Russo, after a period of discipline, were to preside over family matters of this nature again,” he asked.
Carolla said her client had “learned his lesson” and “will not do this again.” She also said Russo was willing to accept whatever disciplinary action the court deemed appropriate.
Earlier this year, Russo’s law clerk filed a sexual harassment suit against Russo claiming he asked the Haitia- American if all the children in her family had the same father.
He was initially placed on paid leave of absence in May 2017 but was reassigned to Burlington County in December 2018.
The court plans to take the evidence heard in Tuesday’s hearing under advisement before making any decisions about his future on the bench.
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