The judge who sentenced former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman will no longer preside over criminal cases.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky became the subject of protests and a recall campaign after sentencing Turner in June. Sentencing guidelines suggested a minimum of two years and up to 14 years in prison; Turner was sentenced to six months in jail and is expected to serve half that time.
The victim read a powerful letter on the assault's impact on her life in court, which was later published by BuzzFeed News. Persky said he arrived at what was criticized as an overly lenient sentence because Turner showed "genuine remorse."
On Thursday, court officials announced that Persky requested to be transferred to civil cases, and he will trade assignments with a judge who desired to move from San Jose to Palo Alto. The reassignment takes effect Sept. 6.
"While I firmly believe in Judge Persky's ability to serve in his current assignment, he has requested to be assigned to the civil division, in which he previously served," Presiding Judge Risë Jones Pichon said in a statement. "Judge Perky believes the change will aid the public and the court by reducing the distractions that threaten to interfere with his ability to effectively discharge the duties of his current criminal assignment."
The reassignment came after Santa Clara prosecutors requested Persky not preside on another sexual assault case in June. At the time, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said he lacked confidence in Persky's ability to fairly participate in the case.
Persky went on to remove himself from another sex case earlier this week. In a ruling reported by the Mercury News, Persky said he recused himself to avoid any appearance of bias.
"While on vacation earlier this month, my family and I were exposed to publicity surrounding this case,'' the ruling said. "This publicity has resulted in a personal family situation such that 'a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial.' ''
For months, activists have publicly protested Persky and called for his removal from the bench. An online petition to recall Persky has gathered more than 1 million signatures, and organizers are readying their efforts to bring a recall to the ballot in November 2017.
Stanford professor Michele Dauber, a leader in the recall effort, said she was pleased Persky would not be handling criminal cases, but noted that the change was only temporary. Judges in Santa Clara County rotate assignments annually.
"He can still transfer back to hearing criminal cases any time he chooses," Dauber told BuzzFeed News in an email. "The issue of his judicial bias in favor of privileged defendants in sex crimes and domestic violence still needs to be addressed by the voters of Santa Clara County."
Dauber added that Persky has been accused of bias in a 2011 civil case related to an alleged gang rape involving baseball players from De Anza College, a community college in Cupertino.
Dauber described it as one of the most disturbing examples of bias by Persky; the judge allowed defendants to use a photo of the woman attending a party a year after the alleged assault in a revealing outfit to argue that she did not have PTSD, Dauber said.
"In our opinion, Judge Persky is biased and should not be on the bench," she said.
On Wednesday, women's advocacy group UltraViolet delivered pink slips to the California Commission on Judicial Performance, calling for Persky to be removed from the bench.
"In case after case, Judge Persky has allowed his own personal bias to distort the criminal justice system to the benefit of privileged men - rapists, abusers and possessors of child porn - over the survivors of their crimes," UltraViolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary said in a statement Thursday night. "These developments are an important first step, and show the power of what happens when millions of people stand up to rape culture. But there’s more work to do. As we have said from day one, Persky must go."