New Jersey’s high court took action Wednesday against two judges who have faced criticism over their comments in cases involving sexual assault.
New Jersey’s Supreme Court terminated the temporary assignment of State Superior Court Judge James Troiano, who declined to order a 16-year-old rape suspect tried in adult court because the youth came “from a good family.”
Troiano is retired, but had been recalled to serve in Monmouth County. He requested the high court end his assignment following widespread condemnation of his remarks.
“This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well,” Troiano said in his July 2018 decision. “He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college.”
Troiano further wondered if the alleged assault of the intoxicated teenager, which was recorded on video, could even be classified as rape.
Also Wednesday, the court recommended that state Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. be removed from the bench. Russo asked a woman during a 2016 hearing if she could have closed her legs to prevent a sexual assault, and joked about the exchange later with court personnel.
The Troiano case and another involving a judge who also declined to waive a 16-year-old’s sexual assault case to adult court prompted strong criticism in recent weeks after the comments came to light. Both decisions were reversed by appeals courts.
Numerous public officials called for Troiano and state Superior Court Judge Marcia Silva to be removed from the bench. Silva called an alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by a 16-year-old “not an especially heinous or cruel offense.”
In the Russo case, the Supreme Court is seeking a harsher punishment than one recommended earlier this year by a judicial ethics commission that suggested a three-month unpaid suspension — though some members pushed for six months.
Russo has contended he was only trying to elicit more information from the woman. At a hearing before the Supreme Court this month, Russo’s attorney said he was remorseful and had “learned his lesson.” The attorney didn’t immediately answer an email seeking comment Wednesday.
Russo, who was reassigned to a different county court in December, has until next month to respond to the Supreme Court’s order and can contest his removal in front of a panel. He will be on unpaid suspension during the process.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy praised the state Supreme Court for taking action against the judges. “I am gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo,” Murphy said in a statement. “I am pleased with the swift action taken by the Courts to uphold the reputation of our judiciary and ensure that all who seek justice are treated with dignity and respect.”