A judge who sparked national outrage when he sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexual assault to only six months in jail will learn Tuesday whether he becomes the first California jurist recalled from the bench in 86 years.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, 56, goes before voters almost two years to the day after the controversial sentencing hearing for Brock Turner, 20. Persky was quietly "re-elected" to a six-year term without a vote days after the hearing because he had drawn no challengers.
A recall effort was quickly initiated, and a Change.org petition drew more than 1.3 million supporters. Stanford law professor Michele Dauber has led the charge.
"Judge Persky has failed women in a very significant way, and the voters are going to hold him accountable," Dauber said. "Many eyes are going to be on Santa Clara County as a model for how to respond to bias against women in the legal system."
Persky, who declined to talk with the media in the days and weeks following the sentencing, still won't discuss the case because of pending appeals. But, his polling numbers in decline, Persky did discuss the "misguided" recall effort at a recent news conference.
"We ask judges to follow the rule of law, not the rule of public opinion," he said. "The recall, if successful, threatens the integrity of our justice system."
Turner, who claimed his victim had consented to sex, could have faced more than a decade in prison. Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence; the defense sought four months. Probation officials suggested six months.
Turner was sentenced to six months, ultimately serving three because of good behavior behind bars. The impact statement written by Turner's victim, identified as Emily Doe, was published in full by BuzzFeed. It drew more than 10 million views within four days and resonated with thousands of sexual assault survivors across the nation.
The case also prompted state legislation that toughened penalties for sexual assault on unconscious victims.
Persky, himself a former Stanford athlete, drew the national spotlight after Turner was found guilty in March 2016 on three counts of sexual assault. Turner was arrested in January 2015 after two graduate students on bicycles rode up as an unconscious woman was being assaulted near a trash bin. The students shouted, then tackled Turner when he fled.
At the sentencing hearing, Turner's father, Dan Turner, argued that his son's life "will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life."
Emily Doe, then 23, read her emotional, 7,000-word impact statement detailing what she remembered of the horror, including taking a shower at the hospital after the attack.
"I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don't want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn't know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it," she said. "I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else."
Persky — citing Turner's age, the fact that he was drunk and thus bore "less moral culpability" and the lack of significant prior legal problems — issued a six-month sentence in county jail with three years of probation. State prison, Persky said, could have a "severe" impact on Turner's life.
In his news conference, Persky rejected claims of bias in his decisions. He said the state has a strong judicial review system and that recalls should be used only for misconduct or incompetence.
"Really what I'm asking voters to do is stop and think about the issue and the implications of the recall," he said.
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