Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand on Wednesday took aim at a New Jersey Family Court judge who had urged leniency for a teenager accused of video-recording himself raping a drunk girl in 2017.

Judge James Troiano's decision last year denying an adult trial for the teenager was overturned last month. An appellate decision chided him for suggesting that an Eagle scout from a good family and a good school should not be subject to the consequences of the adult criminal justice system.

Troiano had also said that prosecutors should have asked the victim to think about her alleged attacker and consider how pressing charges could ruin his life. He also downplayed the teen boy's caption on his video — "When your first time having sex is rape" — as "just a 16-year-old kid saying stupid crap to his friends."

It was one of two cases last month in which New Jersey judges denied waivers for teenage rape suspects. In the other case, Judge Marcia Silva sided with a 16-year-old teen accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Silva's decision was criticized by an appellate panel for minimizing the harm against the victim.

New Jersey 101.5's reports about the two decisions prompted coverage of the cases this week in The New York Times and The Guardian, among other regional and national publications.

Gillibrand, the junior Democratic U.S. senator from New York, shared a link to the Times story on her Twitter account along with her reaction.

"I don’t care what kind of family you’re from – sexual assault is never acceptable. Stop making excuses for perpetrators and start standing up for those who’ve been violated," Gillibrand said.

"Our kids don’t need to be coddled. They need to be taught not to rape."

For many outraged readers, the judges' decisions brought to mind sex abuse survivors' stories in the era of #MeToo. Many rape victims say they often have a hard time being taken seriously by the authorities they report the crimes to.

Also in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has faced criticism — and a months-long investigation — by lawmakers of his own party over the handling of a campaign staffer's rape accusation against a man who Murphy's top staff hired for an administration post. Prosecutors in Hudson County declined to charge Albert Alvarez in part because he insisted what he had done with Katie Brennan was consensual.

Both teens in the stories highlighted by New Jersey 101.5 will have their cases presented to a grand jury, which will determine whether they will be tried as adults.

The original decisions by Silva and Troiano were steeped in doubt over whether the alleged crimes were serious enough to warrant proceedings in open criminal court as opposed to Family Court, where the defendants would have better chances at probationary sentences and have their privacy protected.

In Silva's case from Middlesex County, the judge insisted that “beyond losing her virginity," the 12-year-old girl — who bled after struggling with her assailant — did not suffer "further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional."

In Troiano's case from Monmouth County, the judge insisted that that there was a difference between "sexual assault" and "rape," even though state law does not use the word rape.

Troiano said the girl could not have been raped because her attacker did not use a weapon or threaten her.

Prosecutors said the 16-year-old girl was stumbling drunk during a pajama party. They said the 16-year-old boy led her to a hidden corner of a basement and video-recorded himself penetrating her from behind. Afterward, he sent copies of the video to at least seven friends, including the caption: "When your first time having sex is rape." One teen who saw the video said the girl's head was banging against a wall.

“[D]o I believe that it shows in any way a calculation or cruelty on his part or sophistication or a predatory nature? No, I do not," Troiano said.

“[T]his young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well ... He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high.”

Online reaction to Troiano's decision included references to Texas man Ethan Couch, whose attorney offered the infamous "affluenza" defense after he killed four people in a DWI crash, as well as to Brock Turner, the Stanford University athlete who got a six-month sentence for raping an unconscious woman in 2015.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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