In 2016, an alleged rape victim was subjected to unprofessional comments made by Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. The woman was hoping to get a restraining order against a man who raped her. Instead, she received harsh questions from the New Jersey judge. According to CBS News , when the woman shared details of the traumatizing incident, a transcript of the hearing reveals Russo asking, "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?" "Yes," the woman answered and gave the suggestions of physically defending oneself and running away. Russo replied, "Run away, get away. Anything else?" "I—that's all I know," said the woman. "Block your body parts?" Russo continued. "Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?"
After she left the courtroom, the judge allegedly joked about the
victim to the staffers and Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said this was
"just as problematic." "Judges set the tone for a courtroom. 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." Rabner wrote in
that was filed on May 26. "No reasonable victim could have
confidence in a court system were he to preside over those kinds of
cases again," the chief justice wrote. "No witness, alleged victim, or
litigant should be treated that way in a court of law." Rabner said that
it would be "inconceivable" for Judge John Russo Jr. to preside over
any case involving domestic violence or sexual assault after making
those comments, which he called "demeaning."
After a complaint was filed against Russo in 2018, John Russo Jr. was removed from the bench in 2019 and barred from presiding over a courtroom in the state ever again. His lawyer, Amelia Carolla, told the justices that Russo has "learned his lesson" and he "will not do this again." She also added that he was "remorseful," too.
The New Jersey Supreme Court came to a unanimous decision to remove the judge from the bench. According to
, the court said in its ruling, "Because of Respondent's
multiple, serious acts of misconduct — in particular, his inappropriate
behavior in a matter involving an alleged victim of domestic violence —
we order his removal from office." Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said
Russo's actions have lasting consequences. "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,"
Rabner said. "His overall behavior reflects a lack of probity and
fitness to serve as a judge."
According to CNN , the complaint Russo alleges four counts of misconduct both in the courtroom and by asking personal favors from court staff. Apart from inappropriate questioning of the alleged rape victim, the other counts relate to Russo asking for preferential treatment for scheduling his son's custody case. Russo also threatened a mother who refused to disclose her address in a paternity case. She was afraid for the safety of her children and asked for the paternity order to be sent to her lawyer, the complaint said. In response, Russo allegedly said, "He's going to find you, ma'am. We're all going to find you." Rabner described Russo's comments as "disturbing" and "reflected poorly on his temperament."
As for the alleged rape victim case, Russo tried to defend himself, saying that he was trying to help the woman reveal more details about the 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, as reported by PEOPLE .