Protesters demand ouster of N.J. judges over handling of teen rape cases

(From left) Friends Olivia Corveleyn, Sienna Bucu and Abby Hagen, all of Union, at a protest in Freehold to demand the removal of Judges Troiano and Silva on July 11, 2019. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

(From left) Friends Olivia Corveleyn, Sienna Bucu and Abby Hagen, all of Union, at a protest in Freehold to demand the removal of Judges Troiano and Silva on July 11, 2019. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Two New Jersey judges are facing mounting pressure to resign after comments came to light last week suggesting they showed leniency toward teenage boys accused of rape.

Calls for their ouster have come from social media users, state lawmakers, and even Democratic candidates for president.

On Thursday, protesters brought that demand to one of the judge’s doorsteps. More than 70 people chanted “Step down now!” and held signs outside the Monmouth County courthouse, where Judge James Troiano serves.

“We demand that you accept accountability for the harm you have caused to this community,” said protester Indra Kanthan, addressing Troiano directly. Sexual assault survivors like herself have “felt your utter indifference to our pain and felt the cruelty of your words resonate as if they were spoken directly to us,” she added.

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)

The other judge under fire, Marcia Silva, sits in Middlesex County. For now, they both have their jobs.

Troiano sparked outrage when he decided a 16-year old boy should not be tried for rape as an adult, in part, because the boy was an Eagle Scout and came from a “good family.”

That was despite the fact the boy recorded himself at a alcohol-fueled pajama party penetrating a 16-year-old girl who was so intoxicated she could barely hold up her head. The boy later texted his friends, “When your first time having sex was rape,” although he denied it was rape in another text.

The New Jersey appellate division later overruled Troiano, opening the door for the boy to be tried as an adult and receive a longer sentence if convicted.

An attorney for the boy, who is not named in court documents, said in a statement this week that Troiano’s comments have been taken out of context.

Mitchell Ansell, the attorney, said the judge was required by law to consider factors such as the juvenile’s potential for rehabilitation and family background was a part of that.

“The issue of my client’s guilt or innocence has yet to be addressed in a court of law,” he added. “That day will come.”

Abby Hagen, an 18-year old from Union who attended the protest Thursday, said the judge’s comments were wrong no matter the context.

“If you’re using a boy’s future as an excuse or if you’re using his Eagle Scout status as an excuse, you can say the same things about the girl,” she said. “She has a promising future ahead of her. She can be a Girl Scout Gold Scout. It’s the same thing on both sides.”

Judge Silva, for her part, has faced criticism for appearing to downplay the physical and emotional injuries suffered by a 12-year-old girl who survived an alleged sexual assault at the hands of a 16-year-old boy.

Silva, too, declined to let the boy be charged as an adult and was later overturned by appellate judges.

The cases have struck a nerve across the country and have been held up as proof of bias within the justice system toward privileged teenagers and against sexual assault survivors.

A third New Jersey judge was in the headlines this week as he faces disciplinary hearings for insensitive remarks he made toward another alleged rape survivor. As reported by NJ.com, Judge John Russo in Ocean County asked a woman in 2015 if she “knew how to stop somebody from having intercourse with” her and if she could have closed her legs.

Russo is facing an unpaid suspension of three months or more.

The fate of Troiano and Silva remains unclear. Silva, who is serving a seven-year term that ends in 2021, is the subject of a complaint filed by state lawmakers with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. Such complaints trigger an investigation that can take months to conclude.

Troiano, 69, retired from the bench in 2012 but is currently serving under contract as a “recall” judge to help handle the court’s backlog of cases. A Judiciary spokesman declined to comment on Troiano’s status other than that the judge is on vacation this week.

The judges did not respond to a request for comment made through the Judiciary spokesman.

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