The California judge whose leniency allowed Stanford University rapist Brock Turner to walk free from a sentence earlier than expected is fighting to keep his job.
Turner, 21, walked free from the Santa Clara County jail early Friday morning after serving only half of a six-month sentence, silently passing a flock of reporters awaiting him. In addition to the three months of jail time he served for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in January 2015, Turner must now complete three years of probation and register as a sex offender.
The sentence, handed down by Judge Michael Aaron Persky in June, caused public outrage nationwide and last week led California lawmakers to unanimously pass a bill imposing a mandatory prison sentence for those convicted of rape. The bill (AB 2888) has been criticized as “heavy-handed” by some who advocate on behalf of sexual assault victims and it is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. (Mandatory minimums are oft-criticized because they remove all discretion from judges and hand it instead to prosecutors.)
A second bill (AB 701), more widely received as beneficial to rape victims, was introduced seeking to broaden the definition of rape in California. Because Turner penetrated his victim with his fingers instead of his penis, his actions did not technically meet the state’s definition of “rape,” which is widely considered outdated and does not conform to the definitions now in use by surrounding states.
Persky, for the time being, has voluntarily recused himself from any criminal cases due to the criticism he continues to face for Turner’s sentence, which the judge justified by citing the effect such a conviction would have on Turner’s life. His decision is also seen as a reaction to a campaign to recall him from the elected position he held onto in June because he ran unopposed.
At time of writing, more than 1.3 million people have signed a Change.org petition to impeach Persky.
It seems, however, that Persky will not go quietly. The judge, who graduated from Stanford University in 1984, and once touted his work in prosecuting sex crimes, has launched a counter-campaign to keep his job. A website launched this week by Persky calls for Californians to “support judicial independence.”
“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues,” writes Persky, according to the site. “When your own rights and property are at stake, you want the judge to make a fair and lawful decision, free from political influence.”
“As a judge, I have heard thousands of cases. I have a reputation for being fair to both sides,” the site also says.
Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor, is leading the effort to cut short Persky’s six-year term. In order to recall Persky in the November 2017 election, 70,000 handwritten signatures are required. In June, Dauber told USA Today she was “100 percent confident” the recall effort would prove successful.
“His ruling was dangerous and wrongheaded,” Dauber said at the time. “We need to replace him with someone who understands violence against women.”
A recent investigation by CNN of 52 cases brought against college athletes accused of sexual offenses, found that 33 led to criminal charges; of those, only 13 resulted in prison time. “11 cases ended with no time, either through probation or suspended or deferred sentences; nine ended in acquittals or charges being dropped,” CNN reported.