FREEHOLD, New Jersey -- Protesters demonstrated on the Monmouth County courthouse Thursday to call for the removal of two New Jersey judges who have come under fire for their handling of rape cases, including one who asked whether a 16-year-old Eagle Scout "from a good family" should face serious consequences over a video-recorded assault on an intoxicated teenager.
The second judge asked whether a 12-year-old girl's loss of virginity constituted serious harm.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin issued a statement calling for the ouster of Judge Marcia Silva and Judge James Troiano.
"The conduct and comments by both Judge Marcia Silva and Judge James Troiano are alarming and indefensible and hold no place in the court of law," he wrote. "As a parent and a former judge, I hold those who represent the court and our justice system to the highest standards. I have always had confidence in our justice system and stand with the decision made by the Appellate Court, determining Judge Silva failed to maintain professional competence in her role as a judge as it pertains to this case. The victims in both cases have alleged serious crimes. While I have full faith and confidence that the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct will review these matters with the urgency and gravity such conduct requires, I believe that the judicial system is better served by the resignation or the immediate removal of Judge Silva and Judge Troiano."
The protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Freehold at 10 a.m to rally against the judges, whose comments followed other cases of perceived leniency toward sex offenders from privileged backgrounds and led advocates to question whether judges are sufficiently qualified and trained to handle sex assault cases in the #MeToo era.
"Survivors' worst fears are coming to life," said Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "They're fearful of victim blaming or having the crimes committed against them be minimized."
Troiano said in his opinion that the Eagle Scout charged with assaulting a 16-year-old girl at a pajama party had good test scores and was on track to attend a top college.
According to an appeals court decision last month, the teenager sent friends a video of him having sexual intercourse with the girl, along with a text, saying: "(w)hen your first time having sex was rape."
Troiano called the encounter different from "the traditional case of rape," where "two or more males" attack someone at gunpoint. And he attributed the text to "a 16-year-old kid saying stupid crap to his friends."
The judge wrote that the "young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. ... He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high."
Lawyer Debra Katz said Troiano was redefining the legal standard for rape and should be removed from the bench.
Troiano, a retired judge who serves part time, did not return calls seeking comment made to his home Wednesday by The Associated Press. A message left with a court spokesman was not returned.
Troiano has drawn comparisons to Aaron Persky, the California judge who presided over a notorious rape case against a Stanford University student and who lost his job in a recall election last year. Persky had sentenced swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman near a dumpster. Turner ended up serving just three months.
"I think that what we saw clearly with Judge Persky last year is that people who come from privilege are given a pass in very serious cases of rape," said Katz, who represented Christine Blasey Ford in her Senate testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. "What's so remarkable in this case is ... it was a clear admission, and of course there was a videotape."
In the other case, Silva said the alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by a 16-year-old was "not an especially heinous or cruel offense."
According to an appeals court ruling, the judge wrote that the victim said the 16-year-old pushed her, grabbed her hands, removed her clothing and penetrated her without consent, causing her to lose her virginity. The judge continued: "However, beyond losing her virginity, the State did not claim that the victim suffered any further injuries, either physical, mental or emotional."
In both cases, the judges ordered the boys tried in juvenile court, before the appeals court sent them back for reconsideration.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)