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Judge permanently removed from bench after telling alleged rape victim to "close your legs"

Judge under fire over "close your legs" remark
Judge under fire over "close your legs" remar... 00:25

A New Jersey judge who advised a woman to close her legs to prevent a sexual assault has been fired from his job, and can never work in the state again. The New Jersey Supreme Court permanently barred state Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. from presiding over a courtroom on Tuesday.

The decision was unanimous, with the court citing "repeated and serious acts of misconduct" by Russo. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said that it would be "inconceivable" for Russo to preside over any case involving domestic violence or sexual assault after making those comments, which he called "demeaning." 

"No reasonable victim could have confidence in a court system were he to preside over those kinds of cases again," the chief justice wrote. "No witness, alleged victim, or litigant should be treated that way in a court of law."

Russo made the comments during a 2016 hearing in which the woman was seeking a restraining order against a man she accused of forcing her to have sex. 

Sex Assault Victim Judge's Comments
Judge John F. Russo, appearing for a disciplinary hearing before the New Jersey Supreme Court on July 9, 2019 in Trenton, N.J. Joe Lamberti/Camden Courier-Post via AP, Pool

According to a transcript of the hearing, when the woman described her encounter with the man, Russo asked her, "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?"

The woman said, "Yes," and suggested physically defending herself and running away, to which Russo responded, "Run away, get away. Anything else?"

"I — that's all I know," the woman said.

"Block your body parts?" Russo continued. "Close your legs? Call the police? Did you do any of those things?"

According to Rabner, Russo also made joking comments to staffers about the exchange after the woman left the courtroom, which he called "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. 

Following a 2018 complaint, Russo's lawyer said the judge was "remorseful," he "learned his lesson" and "will not do this again." 

The judge cited that Russo violated judicial code on at least four occasions. In addition to his inappropriate questioning of the alleged rape victim, Russo also threatened a mother who refused to disclose her address in a paternity case and was unable to be impartial in a case involving his ex-wife and their son and a separate case involving a man he went to high school with. 

Last summer, the justices recommended Russo be removed, and a three-judge advisory panel agreed in January. Russo had been on unpaid suspension while appealing those decisions. 

Russo's lawyer, Amelia Carolla, did not immediately respond to CBS News' request for comment. 

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