New Jersey judge who told alleged rape victim to 'close your legs' is 'remorseful,' lawyer says

Judge John Russo Jr. asked the woman, "Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you?" Then he offered, "Block your body parts."
Image: Superior Court Judge John F. Russo
Superior Court Judge John F. Russo appears for his hearing before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton, New Jersey, on Oct. 17, 2018.Tanya Breen / The Asbury Park Press

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

A New Jersey judge who told a woman who said she was raped that she could "close your legs" to prevent such an assault is "remorseful," his lawyer told a state disciplinary committee Tuesday.

Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. of the family court division in Ocean County did not say anything during his hearing before the state Supreme Court, but his lawyer, Amelia Carolla, said the judge had "learned his lesson" and "will not do this again," The Associated Press reported.

Russo was presiding over the 2016 case in which the woman was seeking a restraining order against a man who allegedly raped her when he made the comments.

"Do you know how to stop somebody from having intercourse with you," Russo asked the woman, according to the state's judicial conduct complaint.

She supplied some answers like "tell them to stop," and Russo continued to urge: "What else?"

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

In April, an advisory panel for the court said Russo's comments were "unwarranted, discourteous and inappropriate," and "had the clear potential to re-victimize the plaintiff."

The panel recommended Russo be suspended for three months. The Supreme Court justices before whom Russo appeared Tuesday are trying to determine how to discipline the judge.

Russo denied the woman's request for the restraining order, and in an off-the-record conversation outside the courtroom that was caught on a recording, he was heard telling a clerk, "As an exotic dancer, one would think you would know how to fend off unwanted sexual …”

The clerk twice asked Russo to spare him or her from "reliving everything I heard" regarding the case, as he continued to talk about it, court documents show.

In 2017, he allegedly used his authority to manipulate court scheduling in his favor during a guardianship dispute involving his adult son, who has disabilities, according to court documents.

Russo is also accused of failing to recuse himself from an alimony case involving a couple he knew from high school. He reduced the husband's payment from $10,000 to $300, according to court documents.

The complaint also alleges that the judge had a conversation about a paternity test with a mother in a case he was presiding over without the father and plaintiff in the case being present, which is considered misconduct.

Carolla did not respond to NBC News' requests for comment.

Russo is also facing a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit recently brought against him by a former clerk, NJ.com reports.