Should judges who went easy on accused rapists resign? Murphy hedges
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is weighing in on the story New Jersey 101.5 broke last month -- prompting worldwide media coverage -- about Family Court judges who seemed to downplay the alleged sexual assaults of two girls, worrying about the futures of their accused teen rapists.
But Murphy's not joining a growing list of stage legislators who want the Middlesex and Monmouth judges off the bench.
“We are and claim to be a survivor-centric state and those (judges') comments are completely at odds with that notion," Murphy said Monday.
He said he wants an investigation "by the appropriate judicial watchdog committee that exists."
"I would hope they would that they would pursue that investigation posthaste because those comments are unacceptable," Murphy said.
But should the judges resign?
“I think you have to go through how this works, and the way it works for a judge, when you make a comment like that, which is completely at odds with who we are as a state, there’s a process for that and I strongly support that process," he said.
In other words: Not yet. Let's see what happens.
In the Monmouth County case, during a house party with about 30 pajama-wearing adolescents drinking alcohol, a 16-year-old boy walked a drunk teenage girl down into the basement and sexually assaulted her while recording it on his phone, prosecutor's have said.
He then shared the clip with several friends, with the caption: “When your first time having sex is rape," according to the prosecutors.
Prosecutors called for the 16 year old by to be tried in adult court, but Family Court Judge James Troiano ruled otherwise.
He suggested what happened to the girl did not really qualify as rape, and told prosecutors they should have explained to the victim that pressing charges would ruin the life of her attacker, who he noted had good grades from an excellent school and was an Eagle scout.
An appellate panel quickly overturned the Judge’s decision.
In Middlesex County, prosecutors sought to try a 16-year-old boy in adult court for allegedly sexually assaulting a 12-year-old-girl, but Judge Marcia Silva denied a waiver to try him as an adult, telling prosecutors “beyond losing her virginity, the state did not claim that the victim suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional.”
Silva’s decision was also overturned by an appellate court, and prosecutors in Middlesex and Monmouth Counties are planning to move both cases to adult court.
Last week, five New Jersey state senators called for the investigation and removal of the 2 family court judges. Monday, state Sen. Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth) said Troiano should be removed from the bench. State Sen. Kristin Corrado said the "outrageous comments from a pair of New Jersey judges in recent sexual assault cases make it clear that better training is needed for those who sit on the bench."
State law permits prosecutors to waive up juvenile cases to adult court for the most serious violent offenses, but in order to do so they must present a Family Court judge with a written, in-depth review that takes into account 11 factors, including:
- The nature and circumstances of the crime
- Whether the crimes were against people or property
- The degree of the juvenile's culpability
- The age and maturity of the juvenile
- Whether the juvenile has special learning needs
- The degree of criminal sophistication
- The nature and extent of past run-ins with the law
- Whether the juvenile previously served time in a juvenile facility and how well they responded
- Involvement with child welfare agencies
- Evidence of mental health concerns, drug abuse, or emotional instability
State Senator Troy Singleton, D-Burlington has introduced a bill that would give Family Court judges greater discretion in deciding whether to waive juveniles up to adult court.
A spokeswoman for Singleton said the lawmaker believes “transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system should be limited, and reserved for those youth that commit the most serious and violent of acts, among which include homicide and sexual assault.”
Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said that’s what’s happening now and he said the legislation is “basically a solution in search of a problem.”
Singleton declined an interview request.
New Jersey 101.5 was the first news outlet to highlight the cases and name the judges involved.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com