In another case of misconduct, the judge threatened a woman for not giving out her address.
Anyone who walks into court comes with a hope that the person sitting in the judge’s chair has the discernment to rightfully convict those who are proven guilty, and perhaps even be sensitive to those who are proven to be victims of the crime.
Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. behaved in a manner that no alleged victim should ever have to be subjected to. In 2016, the New Jersey judge made shocking comments while presiding over a hearing where a woman was seeking a restraining order. She was seeking the order against a man who raped her, as reported by CBS News.
When the woman described the incident, the transcript of the courtroom sessions reveals Russo asking the woman, “Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?”
“Yes,” the woman answered and gave the suggestions of physically defending oneself and running away.
Russo replied, “Run away, get away. Anything else?”
“I—that’s all I know,” said the woman.
Russo went on to say, “Block your body parts? Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
After the woman left the courtroom, it was reported that the judge then joked about her to the staffers and Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said this was “just as problematic.”
“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. [Russo] failed in that regard.” Rabner wrote in a court opinion that was filed on May 26.
Rabner also wrote, “No witness, alleged victim, or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law.”
This 2016 incident is not the only case of misconduct over the years on Russo’s part.
In a case where a woman was the defendant of a paternity case, Russo asked her over a phone call for her address and went on to threaten her. The woman had said she didn’t want to reveal her address, saying that she was afraid of her children’s safety, as reported by CNN. The woman then asked for the paternity order to be sent to her lawyer, to which Russo replied, “he’s going to find you, ma’am. We’re all going to find you.”
The comments were “disturbing” and “reflected poorly on his temperament,” according to Rabner.
The other incidents of Russo’s misconduct also include him being biased in a case that involved his son and his ex-wife. Refusing to recuse himself from a spousal support case that involved his classmate from high school is also on his list of misconducts.
In 2018, a judicial board accused Russo of violating the rules of conduct for the inappropriate comments he made to the alleged rape victim. After the complaint, disciplinary hearings were conducted and Russo tried to defend himself, saying that he was trying to help the woman reveal more details about the sexual assault.
“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,” said Russo, according to the New York Times, as reported by People.
Now, Russo cannot preside over any courtroom session after being fired from his position. He is reported to have been permanently barred by New Jersey Supreme Court and the decision was unanimous, giving Russo’s “repeated and serious acts of misconduct” as the reason, reported CBS News.
Rabner wrote in the court opinion that Russo’s “demeaning” comments to the alleged rape victim made it “inconceivable” for the now-former judge to preside over a case that involved sexual assault or domestic violence.