Judge in Stanford rape case removed from office

Aaron Persky criticised for giving Brock Turner six-month sentence for sexual assault

Former Stanford student Brock Turner who was sentenced to six months in county jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious and intoxicated woman in January 2015. Photograph: Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via Reuters

Former Stanford student Brock Turner who was sentenced to six months in county jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious and intoxicated woman in January 2015. Photograph: Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office/Handout via Reuters

 

Voters removed from office on Wednesday a California judge who drew worldwide condemnation for giving a six-month jail sentence to a Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, a former prosecutor appointed to the bench in 2003, would become the first sitting judge recalled in more than 80 years in the state. California lets voters petition for elections to remove state officials from office.

With 88 per cent of precincts reporting in the special election, the campaign to unseat Mr Persky had garnered support from nearly 60 per cent of voters, compared with about 40 per cent opposing the recall, according to returns posted online by the county registrar.

The campaign was organised by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber.

Mr Persky came under fire in June 2016 for sentencing Stanford student Brock Turner, then 20, to six months in the county jail and three years probation for three counts of sexual assault, a penalty widely denounced as too lenient. The university is located in Palo Alto in Santa Clara County.

Uproar over the sentencing was fuelled in part by an open letter from the victim, who remains anonymous, recounting her ordeal in graphic terms that was posted online and went viral, resonating with people around the world.

Turner’s sentence, which predated the #MeToo movement of women speaking out publicly against sexual harassment and abuse, was held up as a symbol of how the US justice system fails to take sex crimes seriously enough.

The recall vote it sparked came at a time that has seen hundreds of women publicly accusing powerful men in business, government and entertainment of sexual harassment and abuse.

Mr Persky, himself a former Stanford athlete, said at a news conference last month that when he ruled on Turner’s term he had been bound by sentencing guidelines and probation department recommendations. He has asserted that his recall would undermine the independence of the judiciary.

“We ask judges to follow the rule of law and not the rule of public opinion,” he told the news conference.

Two women ran to succeed Mr Persky in a separate two-way race. Cindy Seeley Hendrickson, who Ms Dauber endorsed, won with 69.3 per cent of vote on Tuesday, against 30.7 per cent for her opponent, Angela Storey.

Prosecutors had asked that Turner be given six years in prison. He had faced up to 14 years behind bars, and under normal sentencing guidelines would have been likely to receive at least two years in prison.

Turner was released for good behaviour after serving just three months of his six-month term and has since appealed his conviction. He has had to register as a sex offender in his home state of Ohio.

California’s judicial oversight commission received thousands of complaints about the sentencing but concluded in its report that Mr Persky was unbiased and acted in accordance with a probation report.

Probation officials had recommended a “moderate” county jail sentence followed by three years of probation and sex offender treatment.

In addition to finding no evidence of bias, the judicial oversight commission cleared Mr Persky of misconduct and determined the sentence was legal and within his discretion. – Reuters