An online petition is being circulated that demands that a New Jersey judge, already facing charges in an ethics complaint and suing his superiors over allegations that he has been harassed for taking care of his disabled son, be removed from the bench.
The petition calling for the removal of Ocean County Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr., posted to care2.com, had collected 63,786 signatures as of Wednesday morning. Those signing came from a wide variety of states, including California, Texas and New Jersey. Those who signed the petition are anonymous and are identified by usernames only.
The petition, which calls Russo “an unstable, unfair man” who ”has no business being a judge,” has no force of law and cannot be used to have Russo removed. Care2.com describes itself as a social networking site for “activists.” A representative for the site did not return a telephone call, and the site does not identify who launched the petition.
Only the state Supreme Court can remove a sitting judge from office.
Russo, the son of former Democratic Senate President John Russo Sr., is a former administrative law judge who was nominated to the Superior Court bench by former Gov. Chris Christie and confirmed by the Senate in 2015. He is not eligible to be nominated for tenure until 2022.
On March 26, the court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct accused Russo, who is currently on leave, of violating ethics rules in several family court matters he presided over, as well as one in which he was personally involved. The complaint does not specify what degree of discipline is being sought.
Russo, who claimed in his own lawsuit filed last year that he was harassed over the amount of time he spent caring for his disabled son, has been on paid administrative leave since May 2017.
The accusations filed against Russo in the ACJC’s complaint stem from four separate cases.
The first incident, according to the complaint, occurred on May 16, 2016, while Russo was sitting in the Family Division in Ocean County. In that case, a woman was seeking a restraining order against a man who, she alleged, abandoned her along a roadway, threatened to burn her house down and forced her to have sex. The complaint alleges that Russo, from the bench, put himself in the position of defense counsel by asking her if she tried to “run away,” “block[ed her] body parts,” “close[d] your legs,” or called for the police.
The second incident, the complaint said, occurred in March 2016, when Russo allegedly called a Family Division manager in Ocean County and sought help in rescheduling a personal matter that was pending in Burlington County Superior Court.
The third incident also occurred in March 2016, while he was presiding over a family court matter involving a man with whom he attended high school, the ACJC said. Russo, the complaint said, did not recuse, but reduced a child support lien from $10,000 to $300.
In the fourth incident, from July 2016, Russo allegedly called a woman involved in a paternity case to warn her that she could be sanctioned if she did not heed a court order to comply with a paternity test.
In his separate separate civil suit, Russo is claiming that he was suspended from the bench after clashing with supervising judges over time he spent attending to the needs of his disabled son. Russo alleges in the suit that he was subjected to a hostile work environment because of his association with his son, who has Down syndrome, a speech disorder, and possibly a bipolar disorder. Russo’s suit named the state judiciary, Ocean County Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford and Presiding Family Judge Madelin Einbinder as defendants.
Russo, who was confirmed in December 2015, said in his complaint that he was removed from duty in April 2017 and told to undergo a fitness for duty evaluation before hearing any more cases. According to the suit, Ford told Russo that his law clerk had complained about him and that the circumstances could support a hostile work environment claim if the clerk, a woman, is found to have told the truth. The suit also claims that Ford told Russo he was suspended because he had experienced “significant problems adjusting to life as a Superior Court judge.”
Neither Russo nor his attorney, Keyport solo David Corrigan, could be reached for comment.