N.J. judge who cited ‘good family’ in rape case steps down; others face removal

From left, Carol Gay, Joni Brennan Catherine Hunt and JJ Mistretta hold signs at a protest in Freehold to demand the removal of Judges Troiano and Silva on July 11, 2019. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

From left, Carol Gay, Joni Brennan Catherine Hunt and JJ Mistretta hold signs at a protest in Freehold to demand the removal of Judges Troiano and Silva on July 11, 2019. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

A New Jersey judge who sparked national outrage for his comments in a teen rape case has stepped down.

The New Jersey Supreme Court said in a one-sentence notice that the decision to end its contract with Judge James Troiano came at Troiano’s request.

The court also announced that all state judges would have to complete mandatory training focused on sexual assault, domestic violence and implicit bias.

Troiano, 69, has faced death threats and online vitriol since excerpts of his remarks in a 2017 case came to light this month. Troiano appeared to suggest that a 16-year-old boy accused of raping a 16-year-old girl should not be tried as an adult, in part, because he was an Eagle Scout and came from a “good family.”

The comments sparked petitions, protests and calls for his removal from state lawmakers. The case was held up by critics as an example of how the justice system is biased in favor of privileged teenagers and against sexual assault survivors. 

The court on Wednesday also initiated removal proceedings against another judge, John Russo, who asked a woman in 2016 if she could have closed her legs to prevent an alleged sexual assault. Russo will be suspended without pay during the proceedings.

A third N.J. judge, Marcia Silva, is facing an investigation by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, or ACJC, for apparently downplaying the harm to a 12-year-old girl who was allegedly raped by a 16-year-old boy.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, applauded the courts’ moves Wednesday.

“I am gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo,” he 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.”

Troiano retired from the bench in 2012 but has been serving on “recall” in Monmouth County to help ease a backlog of cases. 

Russo and Silva, on the other hand, are both serving seven-year terms, making it more difficult to remove them from the bench against their will. Russo had been working in Burlington County after he was transferred there this year from Ocean County. Silva sits in Middlesex County.

The court’s bid to remove Russo from his position came as a bit of a surprise because the ACJC had recently recommended only a three- or six-month suspension.

But N.J. Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote that Russo’s ethical violations were serious enough to merit removal. In the words of the ACJC, he noted, Russo’s comments “suggest[ed] a degree of intolerance and insensitivity towards victims of sexual assault that is antithetical to the public policy of this state and to the Judiciary’s mandate to act with integrity.”

New training sessions on sexual assault, domestic violence and implicit bias will be held within the next 90 days for state-level judges and 120 days for municipal judges, said Glenn Grant, acting administrative director of the courts. The sessions will be held every two years thereafter, he said.

The programs will help judges better understand the nuances in such cases and deliver decisions that are both rooted in the law and respectful of victims, Grant said in his directive.

As anger grew over the comments by Troiano and Silva, several lawmakers called for that type of training. They welcomed Grant’s announcement.

“These are good first steps that will begin the process of restoring the confidence of survivors to seek the justice they deserve through our courts,” said state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic.

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