The New Jersey Supreme Court has permanently barred Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. from presiding over a courtroom in the state ever again

May 28, 2020 04:44 PM
Judge John F. Russo
Credit: Tanya Breen/The Asbury Park Press via AP

A New Jersey judge who once advised a woman to close her legs to prevent a sexual assault has been fired.

Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. lost his job as as a judge, PEOPLE confirms. Additionally, the New Jersey Supreme Court has permanently barred Russo from presiding over a courtroom in the state ever again.

The decision comes four years after a troubling incident in Russo's courtroom. A woman went before Russo in May 2016 to request a restraining order against a man who she said had assaulted her. She told Russo that the man had threatened her life and made inappropriate comments to her child.

According to transcripts obtained by the New York Times, Russo asked the woman, "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?" The woman said that she would say "no" to the attacker and attempt to run away.

"Anything else?" Judge Russo asked, according to the transcript. When the woman didn't have a response, he asked "Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?"

According to the complaint against the judge, he told staffers that the woman was "an exotic dancer" and therefore should have experience fending off unwanted advances.

Judge John F. Russo
Credit: Joe Lamberti/Camden Courier-Post via AP

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During disciplinary hearings about the case, Judge Russo said that he was trying to help the woman provide more information about her account of the alleged sexual assault.

"I was really struggling to find out is this a case where there really is something going on and a witness who’s just not capable of expressing it or is there something else going on,” he said, according to the New York Times.

In the unanimous decision, the Supreme Court condemned Russo's "course language"  and said that he clearly did not understand the psychology of sexual assault. "Sexual assault turns on the alleged aggressor’s use of physical force, not the victim’s state of mind or resistance," the court wrote.

The Court also denounced the environment created by Russo. "Judges set the tone for a courtroom," the court wrote. "Especially when it comes to sensitive matters like domestic violence and sexual assault, that tone must be dignified, solemn, and respectful, not demeaning or sophomoric. [Russo] failed in that regard."

In his ruling, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said that it would be "inconceivable" for  Russo to preside over any future cases that involved rape, sexual assault or domestic violence after making those "demeaning" comments.

"No reasonable victim could have confidence in a court system were he to preside over those kinds of cases again," Rabner wrote. "No witness, alleged victim, or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law."