The Supreme Court of New Jersey, responding to a nationwide backlash over insensitive comments made by several judges in sexual assault cases, announced new mandatory training on Wednesday for judges across the entire system.
The move came as a judge involved in one of the high-profile cases resigned and removal proceedings were initiated for another.
James Troiano, the Monmouth County judge who recommended leniency for a 16-year-old boy accused of rape because the boy was from a “good family”, resigned from the bench, officials said.
The comments by Mr Troiano, which were made in a 2018 ruling, were seen by advocates for sexual assault victims as emblematic of a legal system that is mired in bias and privilege, and has deterred victims from reporting assaults.
Shortly after the comments became public in early July, elected officials called for the judge’s resignation, petitions circulated for his disbarment and a protest was held outside the Monmouth County courthouse where the judge had made the ruling.
Mr Troiano and his family even received threats of violence.
The chief justice of the state Supreme Court said Mr Troiano, who had retired in late 2012, but continued to hear cases on a part-time basis, requested to step down.
The court acceded and terminated his services effective immediately. A spokeswoman for the court said Mr Troiano will keep his pension, which according to the state treasury is calculated at 75 per cent of his salary, for a total of $123,750 (£99,000).
Also on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ordered a new initiative to improve the training of judges in the areas of sexual assault, domestic violence, implicit bias and diversity.
“The programmes 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,” Glenn Grant, the acting administrative director of the courts, said in a statement.
Under the new initiative, the courts will recess within the next 90 days for a mandatory full-day educational conference focused partly on sexual assault.
Mandatory annual training sessions will be developed with subject matter experts to train judges and judiciary staff.
The Supreme Court also announced that it would begin removal proceedings for Judge John Russo, who asked a woman if she had closed her legs to try to prevent an alleged sexual assault.
The controversy sparked by the two judges drew widespread condemnation from elected officials in New Jersey, many of whom called for the removal of both judges.
On Wednesday, Governor Philip Murphy released a statement praising the Supreme Court’s actions.
“Unfortunately, the inexcusable actions of several judges over recent months have threatened this reputation for thoughtful and reasoned opinion, and common decency,” Mr Murphy said.
“I am gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo.”
Mr Troiano, a longtime family court judge, made the comments in 2018 when deciding whether to try the accused teenager as an adult.
Prosecutors had said the teenager sexually assaulted a visibly intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a party and recorded the act, sending the video to his friends, along with a text that said, “When your first time is rape”.
Mr Troiano decided the boy should not be tried as an adult, but an appeals court sharply rebuked and overturned his decision in June.
The appeals court warned Mr Troiano, 69, against showing bias towards affluent teenagers and said “the judge decided the case for himself”.
Family court cases are typically confidential, but some of Mr Troiano’s comments became public in the appeals court’s 14-page ruling.
In making his decision last year, Mr Troiano appeared to question the girl’s level of intoxication, cited the boy’s good grades and college prospects and drew distinctions between sexual assault and the “traditional case of rape” at gunpoint.
In a two-hour decision, Mr Troiano questioned aloud whether prosecutors had adequately explained to the girl and her family that pressing charges would destroy the boy’s life.
“He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college,” the judge said.
He added: “This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. His scores for college entry were very high.”
Mr Troiano retired in December 2012, but continued to work three days a week as a “recall” judge, occasionally filling in to help ease a backlog of court cases. There are currently 63 judges on recall in state Superior Court.
Through a family member, Mr Troiano declined to comment.
New York Times