Judge Faces Suspension After Asking A Sexual Assault Victim If She Closed Her Legs

photographed by Sage McAvoy.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge John F. Russo Jr. is facing a possible three-month suspension without pay for asking an alleged sexual assault victim whether she tried closing her legs to prevent the assault.
The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct overseeing the case say he has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct with this line of questioning in addition to numerous other instances in recent years, the Washington Post reports.
In 2016, Russo was overseeing a case where a woman was seeking a restraining order against the father of her child, who she claims raped her and threatened her life. In the transcript from the hearing, Russo began a line of questioning by asking, “Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?” According to the transcript, the judge had the woman list out ways to prevent an assault. She suggested attempting to physically harm her assailant, saying no, and running away. When asked if there was anything else she could have done, the woman responded, “That’s all I know.” To which, Russo asked, “Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
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The committee found Russo’s line of questioning to be “unwarranted” and “egregious given the potential for those questions to re-victimize the plaintiff, who sought redress from the court under palpably difficult circumstances.” According to the committee’s report, Russo denied the woman’s request for a restraining order, citing her answers to his line of questioning as reason for his decision.
Russo stands by his line of questioning, saying that it was necessary to “demonstrate the element of force or coercion used during the assault.” He denies that the questions were inappropriate; however, the committee claims that Russo has agreed to not ask those types of questions in the future. In March 2018, Russo’s lawyer, David F. Corrigan, made a statement to the local NBC News station, saying, “Judge Russo looks forward to a public hearing in which he will be able to respond to the allegations against him.” This was right after the complaint was filed.
The committee's investigation into the matter includes interviews with Russo and two dozen other individuals. The recommendation for his suspension, a 45-page document, was released earlier this week. According to the New York Times, the New Jersey Supreme Court has set a hearing for July to determine what disciplinary actions will be taken.
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