N.J. judges get schooled on rape, domestic violence cases after comments landed some in hot water

Posted Oct 28, 2019

Superior Court judges across the state left their courtrooms Monday to take part in a training instituted after several judges were slammed for comments they made regarding sexual assaults.

The judiciary announced the training Friday, describing it as a “mandatory full-day educational conference focusing on the areas of gender violence and bias.”

The announcement made no mention of the judges’ comments that precipitated the training. The Judiciary on Monday did not disclose the training’s exact location, citing security concerns.

On July 17, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner called for the creation of an “enhanced educational training program” for all municipal and state judges “in response to recent events.”

In the same statement, he announced the Supreme Court’s decision to seek the removal of Judge John F. Russo Jr. As an Ocean County family court judge in 2017, Russo asked a woman seeking a restraining order if she could have stopped her alleged rape by closing her legs or blocking her body parts.

That same week in July, the Supreme Court removed Judge James Troiano after the appellate division criticized comments he and another judge made when refusing to allow young men accused of sexual assault to be tried as adults.

Troiano had said rape allegations could ruin the bright future of a boy from a “good family,” and Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Marcia Silva said the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by a 16-year-old was “not an especially heinous or cruel offense,” according to appellate decisions in the cases.

Rabner said in his July statement that a group of 12 judges would review existing training and develop the new initiative.

“[V]ictims asked to relive harrowing experiences are entitled to the utmost sensitivity and respect from law enforcement and the court system... Every effort must be made not to victimize a victim,” Rabner said.

In a directive about the training, Acting Director of the Courts Glenn A. Grant said that the trainings on sexual violence, domestic violence, bias and diversity would be held annually.

“These statewide education conferences will serve to enhance understanding of the complexities and nuances associated with sexual assault, sex offenses, and domestic violence matters and to raise awareness of the impact of implicit bias on decision-making, while providing skills for judges to recognize and respond to their preconceptions,” Grant wrote in the directive.

“The programs also will train judges in effective communication skills that will aid them in delivering clear decisions that are rooted in the law, respectful of victims, and understandable to the public while protecting the rights of the accused.”

Like Rabner, he said most judges are doing a good job.

“That does not mean that we do not continue to improve, especially when particular events prompt us to engage in critical self-analysis that suggests the need to do more to instill the Judiciary’s longstanding guiding policies and principles into our daily practices.”

Attending the training Monday were judges from the Supreme Court, Superior Court, Tax Court and Appellate Division, including retired judges who hear matters on recall. Municipal court judges will receive similar training Dec. 9, the judiciary said.

Monday’s training happens to closely follow another case where the Supreme Court rapped a municipal judge for comments about domestic violence.

While sitting in Newark, Judge Steven Brister told a defendant with a domestic violence record that women were “created with a curve” that men try to straighten out. He said the defendant shouldn’t beat women, but should treat them gently “just to let them know you’re the man and you’re in control.”

A full listing of the topics and presenters at Monday’s event is below.

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