A New Jersey State Superior Court Judge who asked an alleged rape victim whether she tried to stop the assault by closing her legs has been charged with misconduct and will possibly be facing disciplinary action for his comments.
65-year-old Judge John Russo is said to have made the disparaging comments during a hearing for a restraining order case in 2016 and has faced harsh criticism from many women's empowerment organizations, as well as other quarters for the same.
The victim was in court because she wanted a restraining order against the offender, and claimed during her testimony that the man had forced her to have sex with him against her will. The man was not charged with rape, and while the defense lawyer was cross-examining the woman, Russo decided to intervene with his questions.
A complaint filed by The Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct stated the transcription of their conversation, in which Russo first asked the victim: "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?"
When the woman replied in the affirmative, Russo questioned her on how she would do such a thing. The woman replied: "I'd probably physically harm them somehow. The woman also said she would tell them to stop and try to flee the scene.
He then questioned her on short of physically harming the rapist, what else she could have done, allegedly saying: "Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?" prompting the woman to file a complaint that she had been mistreated by him.
However, this is not Russo's first controversial run-in either. According to the Independent, this incident constituted one of just four violations that the judge has been charged with by the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
The Asbury Park Press reported that he was barred from his judicial duties in April 2017 by Superior Court Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford pending the outcome of a misconduct investigation. It was alleged by Russo's law clerk that the judge had thrown a file at her.
A certification filed by Ford in federal court outlined a serious of complaints, incidents, and behaviors which led to the barring. It listed the file-throwing incident and stated that the clerk was the fourth to work for the judge in under a year as others left before completing their clerkships.
The clerk also said that she was forced to rearrange the chairs around her desk to create a barrier so he would not invade her personal space. In a separate incident, he reportedly asked a Haitian-American woman if all the children in her family were from the same father.
He also failed to recuse himself from a case involving a couple he acknowledged knowing personally from high school — he intervened to reduce a husband's child support from $10,000 to just $300. He also supposedly had fits of rage and extreme immaturity - one judge claimed that he used a 'poop emoji' in his chambers.
According to New Jersey 101.5, in March 2016, he called the Ocean County Vicinage Family Division manager to ask her counterpart in the Burlington County to see they could move a hearing date for his own personal Family Court matter to a more convenient time.
A complaint alleges that by doing so, Russo 'attempted to use his office to advance a personal interest.'
In the certification, she wrote: "There have been several incidents in which Judge Russo made threatening or bizarre statements; exhibited explosive fits of rage; lacked appropriate courtroom demeanor or reasonable legal competence in the field of law assigned to him, and otherwise exhibited extreme emotional immaturity." and prompted her to order him to undergo a mental evaluation. Russo refused.
Russo is being represented by defense lawyer David Corrigan, who commenting on the judge's situation, said: "Judge Russo looks forward to a public hearing in which he will be able to respond to the allegations against him. We have respect for the process as well as the advisory committee on judicial conduct, and therefore won’t comment further, pending the hearing."
Corrigan said that Russo had 20 days to respond to these latest allegations, but added that a hearing was not likely to take place for several more months. After the hearing, the committee will then advise the state Supreme Court as to what public disciplinary action should be taken, if any.