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Judge Faces Suspension After 'Close Your Legs' Remark

Ethics panel: Suspend John Russo after 'egregious' questioning of alleged assault victim
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 5, 2019 10:18 AM CDT
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/simpson33)

(Newser) – "Emotional immaturity" has been cited by a New Jersey Supreme Court advisory panel as a factor in its recommendation that a family court judge be suspended without pay for three months and receive training in "appropriate courtroom demeanor." The ethics committee's main bone of contention with Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr., per NBC New York: comments he made to an alleged sexual assault victim in his courtroom that seemed to insinuate she could've tried harder to fend off an attack. The Washington Post cites the 45-page complaint that outlines what transpired during a 2016 hearing involving a woman who sought a restraining order against the father of her 5-year-old daughter. The woman claimed the accused had sexually assaulted her, and Russo went into a line of questioning that the panel now says was "discourteous" and "inappropriate."

After asking the woman if she could think of ways to stop a sexual assault from happening—to which the woman offered suggestions like "tell them no" and to "try to get away"—Russo then prompted, "Anything else? ... Block your body parts? ... Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?" The nine-member panel notes how "egregious" Russo's queries were, "given the potential for those questions to re-victimize the plaintiff." Russo, who denied the restraining order in the 2016 case, insists his queries were meant to "demonstrate the element of force or coercion used during the assault" and to "aid the plaintiff in recounting a traumatic event." NJ.com notes Russo has been on administrative leave since May 2017 from his Ocean County post, though he started working in a Burlington County civil court this year. A final hearing is set for July. (Read more judges stories.)

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