A New Jersey judge who suggested a woman could close her legs to prevent a sexual assault is fighting attempts by the state Supreme Court to remove him from the bench.
Judge John Russo Jr. said in a response released Friday that removing him would be excessive and unprecedented because the court has never removed a judge when it wasn’t recommended by an ethics committee.
In the spring, an ethics committee released its recommendation that Russo be suspended for three months without pay. But in July, the Supreme Court recommended Russo be removed.
Removal “would be sufficiently harsh as to serve only to punish Respondent, not to preserve confidence in the judiciary,” Russo’s attorneys wrote. “There has been no instance in our state where a Supreme Court in New Jersey has taken the extreme action taken of requesting removal when it was not recommended by the committee.”
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 affirmatively and said one method would be to run away, Russo continued, “Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?”
He also made joking comments to staffers about the exchange after the woman had left the courtroom, according to a report issued by the ethics committee.
Russo has contended he was only trying to elicit more information from the woman. Friday’s filing said that he “did not mean to cause harm, but chose words poorly” and that he has acknowledged his mistake and accepted responsibility.
In its July announcement, the court said it would assign three judges to hear Russo’s case. In a separate filing this week, Russo filed a motion to have Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner removed from the case because his comments in the July news release were potentially prejudicial. On Friday, the court denied the motion.