Judges under fire for remarks in sex assault cases

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 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.

Also Wednesday, the court terminated the temporary assignment of a judge who declined to order a 16-year-old rape suspect tried in adult court because the youth came "from a good family."

State Superior Court Judge James Troiano asked whether the suspect should face serious consequences over a video-recorded assault on an intoxicated teenager. Troiano is retired but had been recalled to serve in Monmouth County.

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."

According to the court's order, the termination of Troiano's assignment was by his own request.

According to an appeals court decision last month, Troiano wrote that the "young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. ... He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high."

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.