After several New Jersey judges came under nationwide scrutiny for troubling remarks during separate sexual assault cases, the state Supreme Court this week announced the resignation of one judge, proceedings to remove another, and new training about sexual violence for all judges in the state.
The New Jersey Supreme Court confirmed to The New York Times Wednesday that it had accepted the resignation of Judge James Troiano, who in 2018 granted leniency to a 16-year-old rape suspect in part because he came from a “good family” and attended “an excellent school.”
Troiano, 69, retired in 2012, but had continued to work part time, occasionally filling vacancies on the bench, the Times noted.
State lawmakers and others had called for Troiano’s resignation after details of his 2018 ruling came to light. In that case, prosecutors had recommended that a boy, identified only as G.M.C. in court papers, be tried as an adult for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl at a house party, filming the crime and then disseminating the footage among friends.
“When your first time having sex was rape,” G.M.C. allegedly wrote in a text message accompanying the cellphone video.
Troiano denied the waiver to try the defendant as an adult, saying G.M.C. was an Eagle Scout who’d come “from a good family who put him in an excellent school where he was doing extremely well.”
The judge went on to question whether the rape victim and her family had understood “the devastating effect” that pressing charges would have “on G.M.C.’s life.”
Troiano also raised doubts about whether the assault should be characterized as “rape” because, he said, the alleged crime had differed from “traditional” cases of rape in which two or more males threaten a person at gunpoint in an abandoned area like a “shack” or a “shed.”
The state’s appeals court reversed Troiano’s ruling last month ― and sharply rebuked the judge for citing the defendant’s family and grades as justification for leniency.
Among lawmakers calling for Troiano’s resignation was Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D) who called his ruling “an atrocity.”
“It’s blatantly wrong what he did,” Murphy told New York Daily News. “Some type of corrective action needs to be done.”
In addition to announcing Troiano’s resignation, the New Jersey Supreme Court said it had started removal proceedings against Judge John Russo, who asked a woman at a 2016 hearing if she’d blocked her “body parts” and closed her legs to try to stave off an alleged sexual assault.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said in an order that “because of the seriousness of the ethical violations here, it is appropriate for the Court to consider the full range of potential discipline” against Russo ― “up to and including removal from office.”
A third New Jersey judge, Marcia Silva, has also faced backlash in recent weeks for denying a motion to try a 16-year-old boy as an adult on charges that he sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl. In her opinion, Silva wrote that the girl’s 2017 assault claim, even if true, was “not an especially heinous or cruel.”
″[B]eyond losing her virginity, the State did not claim that the victim suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional,” the judge said.
Silva has also faced calls to resign, but the judge has not indicated an intention to do so nor has any disciplinary action been taken against her.
In a statement, Rabner said that he, “in response to recent events,” had pushed for the development for an “enhanced training program for judges” across the state “in the areas of sexual assault, domestic violence, implicit bias, and diversity.”
All judges will need to participate in a mandatory full-day educational conference in the next 90 days, the Times noted. This will be followed up by annual training sessions, which will also be mandatory.
“Sexual assault is an act of violence. It terrorizes, degrades, and induces fear in victims,” Rabner said, explaining the need for such a program. “Without question, it is a most serious matter in which fault lies solely with the perpetrator, not the victim.”
“Every effort must be made not to revictimize a victim” in court, Rabner continued, adding that the new training will be designed “to ensure confidence in the integrity and independence of our system of justice.”
Applauding the “swift action” taken by Rabner and the state Supreme Court, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in a statement that he was “gratified” Troiano had stepped down and “that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo.”
“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,” Murphy said.