In 2016, in New Jersey, Judge of the Superior Court John F. Russo, Jr. had some questions for an alleged victim of sexual assault who was testifying in his courtroom because she wanted a restraining order against her assailant. When the woman was describing her assault, Russo asked her if she knew how to prevent someone “from having intercourse with you.”
She suggested running away. That’s not what he was getting at.
Russo continued, “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
He also made joking comments to staffers about the exchange after the woman had left the courtroom, according to a report issued by the judicial conduct committee.
Talk about victim blaming… It’s a horrific thing to say, period, but coming from the person who has the power to decide your fate is terrifying.
That’s not the only instance of Russo’s misconduct, but it’s arguably the most egregious. It’s why the state’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) suggested he be suspended for three months without pay.
Now the Supreme Court of New Jersey has gone much, much farther than that: They’ve removed Russo from the bench and permanently banned him from being a judge in the state ever again. The decision is truly incredible.
Here’s what they said about the leg-closing remark:
No witness, alleged victim, or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law. As the ACJC found, the questions were “wholly unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate.” The questions also shamed the alleged victim by intolerably suggesting she was to blame. Respondent claimed he was trying to help a “demoralized” witness on cross-examination and “get her re-engaged in the hearing.” That explanation does not square with the record. Beyond that, Respondent’s coarse questions about how the plaintiff responded during the alleged assault were not relevant. Sexual assault turns on the alleged aggressor’s use of physical force, not the victim’s state of mind or resistance.
And here’s the Court on the four misconduct incidents as a whole:
… His pattern of misconduct and unethical behavior not only undermined the integrity of different court proceedings but also impaired his integrity and the Judiciary’s. His overall behavior reflects a lack of probity and fitness to serve as a judge. And his conduct breached the public’s trust.
… The series of ethical failures that Respondent committed are not errors of law, innocent missteps, or isolated words taken out of context. Viewed as a whole, they are flagrant and serious acts of misconduct.
Is it excessive? It shouldn’t be. No one has a right to be a judge, much less a judge with the power Russo had. It’s a privilege. It’s an honor. He abused it repeatedly, as the documentation makes clear. If only other judges were held to similar standards.
(Screenshot via ABC. Thanks to Brian for the link)