Judge Aaron Persky, who handed down the controversially lenient sentence in the Stanford swimmer sexual assault trial, was recalled from office following a vote Tuesday.
Persky faced nationwide scrutiny in March 2016 when he handed down a six-month sentence to Brock Turner, the Stanford athlete who was convicted of sexually assaulting and attempting to rape an unconscious woman; the charges carried a sentence of up to 14 years in prison, while prosecutors asked Persky for a six-year sentence. Turner ultimately served three months in jail.
“As a prosecutor, I fought vigorously for victims. As a judge, my role is to consider both sides,” Persky said in a statement following the Turner sentence. “California law requires every judge to consider rehabilitation and probation for first-time offenders. It’s not always popular, but it’s the law, and I took an oath to follow it without regard to public opinion or my opinions as a former prosecutor.”
After the jury on a separate sexual assault case demanded Persky’s removal from that trial, the judge requested reassignment so that he could only preside over civil cases.
Three months after the Turner sentencing, in June 2016, Persky started a six-year term as Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, which ended with Tuesday’s vote. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Persky is the first California judge to be recalled since 1932.
In December 2016, a California state judicial panel cleared Persky of misconduct in his lenient sentencing of Turner as well as other controversial cases he presided over. However, a recall campaign was launched – backed by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, whose daughter is friends with the woman who accused Turner of sexual assault – to remove Persky as jurist. After collecting enough signatures, the measure to recall Persky was added to Tuesday’s ballot.
“Two years ago I was on CNN and @JeffreyToobin said that while he thought Persky deserved to be recalled, the effort ‘would fail’ because we would never be able to sustain voter interest and attention,” Dauber tweeted following Tuesday’s result. “But nevertheless, we persisted. Perhaps Jeff should invite me back now
While Californians voted overwhelmingly to recall Persky – Assistant District Attorney Cindy Hendrickson won the vote to serve the remainder of his term – there were concerns that the recall would send a message to judges that they could lose their positions if they don’t hand down a sentence that is publicly approved.
“This is a sad day for the California judiciary,” former Santa Clara County judge LaDoris Cordell, who was active in efforts against the recall, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “If [judges] don’t go along with popular opinion… they can lose their job.”
Persky did not issue a statement following the recall.