New Jersey judge who cited alleged rapist's 'good family' in court ruling steps down

Andrew J. Goudsward

MONMOUTH, N.J. – A New Jersey judge facing intense criticism for ruling that a teenage boy accused of rape should not face adult charges in part because he "came from a good family" has agreed to step down, according to a State Supreme Court order issued Wednesday.

Superior Court Judge James G. Troiano, a retired judge who was taking cases on an on-call basis, told the Supreme Court that he did not want to continue serving and would leave the bench effective immediately, according to Chief Justice Stuart Rabner's order.

Troiano has drawn sharp criticism in recent weeks over his decision to bar the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office from bringing adult charges against a boy accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated girl at a party in 2017.

He allegedly sexually assaulted a girl: A judge went easy on him: He 'comes from a good family'

In his ruling, Troiano appeared to give deference to the accused, citing his status as an Eagle Scout and the potentially "devastating effect" adult charges would have on his life. An appellate court last month reversed his decision and rebuked Troiano for his remarks.

“[T]his young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well,” Troiano said of the accused, according to the appellate court decision. “He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college."

The decision drew widespread attention when it came to light and a number of lawmakers and activists demanded Troiano's resignation. Last Thursday, about 50 people gathered outside the Monmouth County Courthouse to demand the resignations of Troiano and another Superior Court judge also under fire for a decision in a sexual assault case.

Protesters said Troiano's remarks underscored why so few sexual assault victims report the assault to authorities and the seemingly preferable treatment within the criminal justice system to those accused of sexual assault. Activists said Troiano perpetuated "rape culture" by suggesting that a teenage boy deserved leniency because of his social and academic standing.

Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that he was "gratified" that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench." Murphy had previously stopped short of calling for the judge's resignation, but said his conduct should be investigated.

Troiano's decision was announced just minutes before the Supreme Court said it would begin removal proceedings against Superior Court Judge John F. Russo over his "close your legs" remarks to an alleged rape victim.

"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 in a statement.

Prosecutors allege that the 16-year-old boy, identified only as "G.M.C." sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl in a basement during a pajama-themed party in Monmouth County in 2017. The girl was visibly intoxicated and slurring her words at the time, according to prosecutors.

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The defendant allegedly recorded the assault on his cell phone and later circulated it among friends, including sending a text message that read "(w)hen your first time having sex was rape," according to the appellate decision.

Prosecutors had sought to bring a slew of adult charges including first-degree aggravated sexual assault against the boy, but Troiano ruled the case couldn't be waived up to adult court.

The appellate court chastised Troiano for his remarks writing, "that the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not condemn the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores from withstanding waiver applications."

The decision clears the way for prosecutors to bring adult charges in the case. The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office has said it is assessing its next moves in discussions with the girl and her family.

The defendant had been attending Syracuse University until the case the case drew national attention. The university now says he is no longer a student there.

Troiano has not commented publicly since the controversy began.

Mitchell Ansell, who is representing "G.M.C" as part of the Ocean Township law firm Ansell, Grimm and Aaron, said Troiano heard testimony from three police officers and considered a number of factors like the maturity of his client and the potential for rehabilitation as part of his decision.

"The comments made by Judge Troiano in his decision were in the context of addressing those factors and assessing the evidence that he heard," Ansell said in a statement last week. Ansell said his client's innocence or guilt has not yet been addressed in court.

But Troiano faced a growing chorus of criticism as his remarks drew headlines nationwide. Murphy criticized his remarks and a number of state lawmakers, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, demanded he either resign or be removed from the judiciary.

A group of state lawmakers already lodged a formal complaint with the state Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct earlier this month against Superior Court Judge Marcia Silva.

Silva, who sits in Middlesex County, ruled that another 16-year-old sexual assault defendant shouldn't be tried as an adult in part because the 12-year-old girl he was accusing of raping did not suffer “especially serious harm.”

Both cases have ignited outrage against the judiciary in New Jersey.

Officials also announced Wednesday that, in response to a request from Rabner, all Superior Court, Tax Court and Appellate Division judges, as well as state Supreme Court justices, will attend a mandatory day-long conference on sexual assault, domestic violence, implicit bias and diversity within 90 days.

"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," Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts, wrote in a letter to state judges.

The conference is part of a new initiative designed to expand upon training judges already receive.

Follow Andrew Goudsward on Twitter: @AGoudsward

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: N.J. judge who cited alleged rapist's 'good family' in ruling steps down