NJ charges judge who asked rape victim if she could close her legs
A Superior Court judge is facing four counts of judicial misconduct, including asking a rape victim if she knew how to ward off unwanted sexual advances by closing her legs.
Superior Court Judge John F. Russo Jr. has been suspended with pay from his $165,000-a-year job since May, after the Ocean County assignment judge accused him of violent and bizarre behavior. He is also suing the judiciary over alleged discrimination against him.
In addition to accusing him of badgering a rape victim in 2016, the state Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct on Tuesday charged Russo with mishandling other cases.
His attorney, David Corrigan, said Wednesday that "Judge Russo is looking forward to having a public hearing in which he can appropriately respond to the allegations against him.
"While we respect the media reporting these things, we don’t think it’s appropriate to have a tit-for-tat through the media."
In the rape case, the woman was seeking a final restraining order against a man she knew who pulled off her pants and forced himself on her, although she did not want to press criminal charges.
The complaint says Russo's questions were irrelevant and made him sound like a defense attorney. They're the kind of questions that that sex-assault victim advocates say deter victims from pursuing criminal charges against their assailants.
"I understand that you're not pressing charges, but that's now what we're dealing with here," Russo said, according to a transcript that is quoted in the complaint against him.
While she was being cross-examined by the defense attorney, who asked her if she "got many unwanted advances from men that were overly sexual during your time as dancer," and whether she was "capable of asserting yourself against unwanted sexual advances," Russo interrupted and asked his own questions when she replied "I guess so."
"I'm sorry, but 'I guess so' is not an answer," Russo told her. "Do you understand the question?"
"Not really, I don't understand the question," she said.
"Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?" he asked.
"How would you do that?"
"I'd probably physically harm them somehow," she said.
"Short of physically harming them?"
"Tell them no," she said.
"Tell them no. What else?" he continued.
"Top stop. What else?"
"And to run away or try to get away," she said.
"Run away, get away. Anything else?"
"I — that's all I know," she said.
"Block your body parts?" Russo asked. "Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?"
The complaint says these questions violated three rules of judicial conduct, including being discourteous and mistreating the victim.
The complaint charges him with violating seven rules in all:
— In March 2016, he called the Ocean County Vicinage Family Division manager to ask her counterpart in the Burlington County Vicinage to see they could move a hearing date for his own personal Family Court matter to a more convenient time. The complaint says by doing this Russo "attempted to use his office to advance a personal interest."
— In a divorce case in which an ex-husband was arrested for failing to pay spousal support, Russo reduced the amount the defendant needed to pay from $10,000 to $300 after acknowledging that he had known both the defendant and his ex-wife since high school.The complaint says this presented a conflict of interest that could affect his impartiality.
— In 2016, Russo called a mother on the phone to ask her if she had complied with an order to submit to a paternity test. The complaint says the plaintiff/father should have been on the call.
Russo was appointed judge in 2015 and has been practicing law since 1997.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.