The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the removal of a Superior Court judge who asked an alleged rape victim if she attempted to close her legs to fend off the assault Tuesday.
“Based on our review of the extensive record, we find beyond a reasonable doubt that there is cause for Respondent’s removal,” New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in an opinion ordering John Russo’s removal. “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.”
The court began proceedings to remove the Ocean County judge last July, after the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recommended Russo be suspended for three months over the comments.
Separately, the judge has faced an allegation of sexual harassment from a former clerk that has accused Russo of standing uncomfortable close to her despite entreaties not to do so, spreading his legs and repeatedly telling her to come closer then throwing a probation file at her and ordering her out of his office when she refused.
The Supreme Court named three other charges against Russo.
It claimed the judge attempted to use his connection to managing judge of Ocean County’s Family Division to reschedule a guardianship hearing involving Russo and his ex-wife.
Russo accepted a charge stemming from a hearing involving a person the judge knew from high school. In that case, the judge lowered the amount of child support the defendant had to pay to stay out of jail from $10,000 to $300.
The Judge also accepted a charge claiming he made threatening comments to a mother involved in a paternity case.
“The series of ethical failures that Respondent committed are not errors of law, innocent missteps, or isolated words taken out of context,” Rabner said in the opinion. “Viewed as a whole, they are flagrant and serious acts of misconduct.”
Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) was among the first public officials to call for Russo’s ouster.
“Survivors of sexual assault deserve to be heard – not questioned and belittled by judges who ask if they attempted to ‘close [their] legs.’ John Russo’s actions were flagrantly inappropriate and ethically unacceptable, and I am glad that our state Supreme Court agreed that his repeated acts of misconduct rendered him incapable of passing judgement as an official of our courts,” Gopal said. “Our state can and must do better.”Russo Removal