Judge Asks Rape Victim If She Tried 'Closing Her Legs' To Prevent Her Assault
The judge asked the alleged rape victim if she tried to thwart off her attacker
A New Jersey judge has been accused of misconduct after he asked an alleged rape victim if she tried to close her legs to prevent her sexual assault. Superior Court John Russo Jr. faces a suspension of three months without pay after an advisory board accused him of mistreating the victim during the 2016 hearing.
The advisory board found that Judge Russo violated the code of judicial conduct on four occasions during the hearing. The New Jersey Supreme Court has since ordered that a hearing be held in July of this year regarding the recommendation by the state Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
During the initial 2016 hearing, Russo asked the victim — who was seeking a restraining order due to domestic violence — a series of absurd, insulting, and tone-deaf questions. The entire exchange was out of line, especially coming from an “impartial” judge.
“Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?” Russo asked, per the transcript of the hearing. “How would you do that?”
“I’d probably physically harm them … tell them no … to stop, or try to run away,” the victim responded.
Russo continued to press her, asking “Run away, get away. Anything else?”
“I — that’s all I know,” she said.
The next part is where Russo decides to take the intense, unnecessary line of questioning takes a sharp turn into abusive, victim-blaming territory. He continues to try to prompt her to think of other ways she could have “prevented” herself from being raped.
“Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?” he asked.
Absolutely awful. Why should a victim of sexual assault ever have to bear the responsibility of thwarting their attacker? Why wouldn’t the blame immediately be placed on the man who assaulted her? Especially when it comes to a judge — it’s not like these questions came from the perpetrator’s defense attorney.
The advisory panel recommends Russo be suspended for three months, without pay, and attend additional training on appropriate courtroom demeanor over his comments after reviewing the transcripts, according to the New York Times.
Russo’s comments demonstrated “an emotional immaturity wholly unbefitting the judicial office and incompatible with the decorum expected of every jurist,” per the review panel’s 45-page recommendation detailing his four incidents of misconduct.
Russo’s other incidents in the report include allegedly failing to recuse himself from a case that involved a couple he knew, improperly communicating with a litigant in a case he presided over, and using his office to influence a personal legal matter.
Russo denies any impropriety in the case in his official response to the advisory board but maintains that he wouldn’t ask alleged sexual assault victim those same questions in the future, according to the complaint.
“Judge Russo looks forward to a public hearing in which he will be able to respond to the allegations against him,” the lawyer, David F. Corrigan, told NBC4 in March of last year. “We have respect for the process as well as the advisory committee on judicial conduct, and therefore won’t comment further.”
The advisory board will pursue its recommendation for Russo’s suspension. “We find [Russo’s] questioning of the plaintiff’s conduct in this circumstance was not only discourteous and inappropriate, but also egregious given the potential for those questions to re-victimize the plaintiff, who sought redress from the court under palpably difficult circumstances,” the panel said. “This conduct constitutes a significant departure from the courtroom demeanor expected of jurists and impugns [Russo’s] integrity and most notably that of the Judiciary.”
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