It takes FOUR times to get a Judge removed.... #TimesUp https://timesupnow.org/
N.J. judge who asked rape victim about closing her legs is removed from the bench
Updated May 26, 4:55 PM; Posted May 26, 1:51 PM
Superior Court Judge John F Russo
The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday to remove Superior Court Judge John F. Russo from the bench and bar him for judicial office due to "repeated and serious acts of misconduct." (Tanya Breen/The Asbury Park Press via AP)AP
By Joe Atmonavage | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The New Jersey judge who was previously suspended for asking an alleged rape victim if she could have closed her legs during the attack will never serve as a judge in the state again.
The state Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision Tuesday removing John Russo Jr. from judicial office and permanently barring the former Ocean County Superior Court judge from presiding over a New Jersey courtroom again because of “repeated and serious acts of misconduct” committed by Russo, wrote Chief Justice Stuart J. Rabner, who authored the opinion on behalf of the high court.
The decision was expected after a three-judge panel recommended in January to remove Russo from the bench for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct on at least four occasions — most prominently when he asked an alleged rape victim a series of questions that the the state’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) described as “wholly unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate.”
Russo began questioning a woman about her efforts to stop the alleged assault as she appeared in court in Ocean County in 2016 seeking a restraining order against the man who allegedly raped her.
"Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?” he asked her, according to a transcript.
After the woman said “run away or try to get away,” Russo asked if there was anything else she could have done.
“Block your body parts?” Russo asked. “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
Rabner, the state’s top judge, wrote in the opinion that it would be “inconceivable” that Russo could preside over domestic violence or sexual assault matters in the future after those comments.
“No reasonable victim could have confidence in a court system were he to preside over those kinds of cases again,” the chief justice wrote.
Russo, who previously served as mayor Toms River, apologized through his attorney for the remarks during a Supreme Court disciplinary hearing in July 2019. However, Russo claims, according to the opinion, that he was trying to help a “demoralized” witness on cross-examination and “get her re-engaged in the hearing,” but the court wrote that “that explanation does not square with the record.”
“No witness, alleged victim, or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law,” Rabner wrote. ... “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.”
An attorney representing Russo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The opinion outlines three other instances in which Russo’s actions as a judge showed a “pattern of misconduct and unethical behavior.”
In 2016, Russo threatened a mother in a paternity case with financial penalties when she wouldn’t disclose her address. Russo then remarked: “He’s going to find you, ma’am. We’re all going to find you.”
“(Russo’s) disturbing comments and questions were insensitive, threatening, and discourteous, and they reflected poorly on his temperament,” Rabner wrote in the court’s opinion.
In a guardianship case involving his ex-wife and their son, Russo asked a high-level court employee who worked in the same courthouse as him to help him reschedule the case in another county. The opinion said Russo “should have worked through his attorney to request that his personal matter be rescheduled.”
The final misconduct charge against Russo was for decreasing the amount a man had to pay in back child support. The judge said in court he went to high school with the man and then subsequently decreased the amount owed from $10,000 to $300 “based solely on uncorroborated financial information supplied by the defendant,” according to the opinion.
Rabner wrote that the incident, raised “doubts about Russo’s impartiality.”
The state Supreme Court wrote in their decision to remove Russo from office and bar him from future judicial positions that the four incidents “viewed together” have “lasting consequences.”
“His pattern of misconduct and unethical behavior not only undermined the integrity of different court proceedings but also impaired his integrity and the Judiciary’s,” Rabner wrote. “His overall behavior reflects a lack of probity and fitness to serve as a judge. And his conduct breached the public’s trust.”