In a befitting action served for shaming a woman seeking a restraining order to prevent a sexual assault, the New Jersey Supreme Court permanently barred a judge from presiding over courtroom trials. Tagged as “inconceivable” to preside over domestic violence or sexual assault matters, judge John Russo Jr lost his job after asking a woman if she had closed her legs to try to prevent a sexual assault.
Russo served in Ocean County and the case under contention dated back to May 2016 when a woman reportedly attempted to obtain a restraining order against the man whom she accused of sexual assault. She also alleged that the man, her 5-year-old daughter’s father, had threatened even to kill her and promised to burn down her house.
Judge Russo lobbed his question and asked the woman, “Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?”. Not satisfied with the woman’s answers, Russo offered, “Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
In his ruling, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner of the New Jersey Supreme Court wrote, “No witness, alleged victim or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law. The questions also shamed the alleged victim by intolerably suggesting she was to blame.”
Justice Rabner also wrote, “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. Respondent failed in that regard.”
Instead of issuing her the restraining order after the hearings in 2016, Judge Russo had reportedly said that “as an exotic dancer” the woman should be well versed with how to fend off unwanted advances. In his defense, Judge Russo said, “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.” However, the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed his explanation.