An embattled California judge did nothing wrong sentencing an ex-Stanford University athlete to just six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, a state judicial panel said Monday.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky committed no misconduct with his punishment in June for former swimmer Brock Turner, now 21, the Commission on Judicial Performance said. Persky’s lenient sentence sparked a storm of criticism, including a movement to force him off the bench. Turner was credited with good behavior in jail and served less than three months.
“The commission has concluded that there is not clear and convincing evidence of bias, abuse of authority, or other basis to conclude that Judge Persky engaged in judicial misconduct warranting discipline,” the six-person commission wrote.” [T]he sentence was within the parameters set by law and was therefore within the judge’s discretion.”
Persky’s sentencing considered the impact on the 22-year-old victim and on Turner, and it was in line with a probation report’s recommendation, the commission said.
Turner was convicted of three felony sexual assault charges in March and had faced a maximum of 14 years behind bars. Prosecutors had sought a six-year prison sentence for Turner, who testimony showed abused the intoxicated woman behind a dumpster before two students intervened.
Persky, opting for a short term in a county jail, said he worried prison might have a “severe impact” on Turner.
The commission stressed that it did not examine whether Turner’s sentence was the appropriate length of time.
“The commission is not a reviewing court ― it has no power to reverse judicial decisions or to direct any court to do so ― irrespective of whether the commission agrees or disagrees with a judge’s decision,” the commission said in its 12-page report. “It is not the role of the commission to discipline judges for judicial decisions unless bad faith, bias, abuse of authority, disregard for fundamental rights, intentional disregard of the law, or any purpose other than the faithful discharge of judicial duty is established by clear and convincing evidence.”
The victim wrote a powerful letter to the court criticizing her assailant ahead of the sentencing, and it attracted widespread public support. A letter from Turner’s father struck a discordant tone, arguing his son’s life shouldn’t be ruined for “20 minutes of action.”
More than 1.2 million signed a petition calling for Persky’s removal from the bench, and thousands of complaints about his handling of the case reached the commission. Critics began looking at other cases Persky handled and alleged they had found additional bias. The scrutiny led Persky to request a reassignment to civil cases.
A group opposing Persky said it disagreed with the commission’s findings and said the report contained factual errors about Persky’s previous cases. Recall Judge Aaron Persky campaign chairwoman Michele Dauber told HuffPost that the group would continue to press for a recall vote on next year’s ballot.
“This report simply highlights what we have been saying from the beginning, which is that a petition for judicial discipline was not the correct venue to address these concerns, and the recall is the only realistic way to remove Judge Persky from office,” Dauber said. “Under the California constitution, Judge Persky is an elected official and voters have the right to decide whether he should continue to serve on the bench for the next six years.”
Persky was not immediately available for comment.