Judge Banned After Telling Woman to 'Close Your Legs'

NJ Superior Court Judge John Russo can't preside over courtroom anymore
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 27, 2020 6:16 AM CDT
Judge Banned After Telling Woman to 'Close Your Legs'
In this Oct. 17, 2018 file photo, Superior Court Judge John F. Russo appears for his hearing before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct at Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton, NJ.   (Tanya Breen/The Asbury Park Press via AP, File)

A judge who suggested that a woman seeking a restraining order could "close your legs" to prevent a sexual assault was removed from the bench Tuesday by the New Jersey Supreme Court and permanently barred from presiding over a courtroom. The unanimous decision cited "repeated and serious acts of misconduct" by state Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr., per the AP. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that it would be "inconceivable" for Russo to preside over domestic violence or sexual assault matters after those comments. The justices had recommended last summer that Russo be removed from the bench, and a three-judge advisory panel agreed in January. Russo had been on unpaid suspension while appealing those decisions. His attorney, Amelia Carolla, declined to comment Tuesday.

The woman appeared before Russo in 2016 seeking a restraining order against a man she said sexually assaulted her. According to a transcript of the exchange, when the woman described her encounter with the man, Russo asked her, "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?" When the woman answered yes and said one method would be to run away, Russo continued, "Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?" At a hearing in December, Russo expressed remorse for his comments to the woman and for joking about the exchange with court personnel afterward. But he's argued that the penalty is excessive. The report by the three-judge panel noted four instances of misconduct—including a matrimonial matter for which he did not recuse himself even though he knew someone involved. (Read more judges stories.)

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