NJ courts asked to remove judge who said girl, 12, didn’t suffer in rape
NEW BRUNSWICK — Five state senators have called for the investigation and removal of two Family Court judges who were criticized for downplaying the actions by accused teen rapists.
In a letter Friday to the state Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, the four Democratic senators representing Middlesex County called for an investigation of Judge Marcia Silva, a Republican appointee whose opinion in a Middlesex County juvenile rape case was overturned last month after she said that a 12-year-old rape victim didn’t suffer physical or emotional damage beyond losing her virginity.
“We unanimously believe that a detailed investigation must result in Judge Silva’s removal from the bench,” Sens. Bob Smith, Joseph Vitale, Linda Greenstein and Patrick Diegnan wrote.
In a separate statement earlier in the week, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, also called for the removal of Silva and of Family Court Judge James Troiano, who had his own juvenile rape case ruling overturned last month.
“These comments are appalling and having two cases like this is cause for grave concern in the state of New Jersey. The judicial branch should take immediate disciplinary action,” Weinberg said.
“Privilege, bias, prejudice and bigotry permeate throughout our society, including the justice system. We cannot expect to eradicate it in its entirety, but any example of it displayed by the people in charge of issuing justice in our state should be intolerable.”
In Troiano’s case, the appellate decision — and the public — found fault with him touting the accused rapist’s good grades and pedigree. Troiano’s decision also offered his own definition of rape that was at odds with the state’s criminal code, saying that he believed rape only involved weapons and threats of force and kidnapping. In the case he heard, a 16-year-old boy was accused of assaulting a stumbling-drunk 16-year-old girl who never consented to sex. The boy video-recorded the basement assault and sent copies to his friends, including the line “when your first time having sex is rape,” prosecutors in Monmouth County said.
Both cases involved prosecutors requesting to waive the juveniles to adult court. State law gives prosecutors leeway to decide this as long as the defendant is at least 15 years old and is accused of one of the more serious, violent crimes.
New Jersey 101.5 was the first news outlet to name the judges and highlight the appellate decisions last month, prompting news coverage around the world.
That widespread attention was cited Friday in the letter from the Central Jersey lawmakers who said that Silva’s actions, “along with the international attention they have received, have undeniable weakened the integrity of the New Jersey court system.”
The letter says Silva violated the Judicial Code of Conduct’s rule on upholding and promoting “the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” as well as the rule for judges to act “impartially and diligently.”
Silva was appointed to the bench in 2014 by then-Gov. Chris Christie. She is married to the former mayor of East Brunswick, who switched to the GOP in 2013 and unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate. Silva lost her bid for the Assembly.
Troiano is a retired judge who has been recalled in order to fill vacancies on the bench. Last year, Troiano earned $40,600 in daily stipends in addition to his yearly pension of $124,000. Silva will make $181,000 this year.
The only state senator from Middlesex County who did not sign the letter was Sam Thompson, a Republican from Old Bridge, who criticized Silva’s decision as “a strange comment — no question,” but doubted whether she could be investigated or removed for it.
“I think there are a lot of judges I would have investigated,” he said. “I could name a whole bunch of judicial decisions that are terribly wrong.”
Thompson said calls for investigations of judges might be at odds with Democrats “crying out they need to have judicial independence.”
“It’s a stupid statement that she (Silva) made. I’ll leave it to the judicial offices to make the interpretation as to whether this results in a censure or [removal].”
Earlier this year, a state Supreme Court panel that handles judiciary discipline recommended a three-month suspension for Judge John Russo Jr., sitting in Ocean County, who suggested that an adult rape victim should have closed her legs.
Silva and Troiano have declined to comment to the press. When confronted outside his home this week by journalists from the New York Post, Troiano scolded a photographer for referring to him as “Mr. Troiano” instead of “Judge Troiano” but declined to respond to the firestorm.
In New Jersey, judges are appointed to seven-year terms by the governor and are confirmed by the state Senate. A practice known as "senatorial courtesy" allows a single senator to hold up a nominee from their home county for any reason.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email email@example.com.