Judge in Stanford swimmer's rape case showed no bias, commission rules

The Commission on Judicial Performance received thousands of complaints against Judge Aaron Persky after his June 2016 sentence of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner.

Jason Doiy/The Recorder/AP/File
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, seen in a 2011photo, drew criticism for sentencing former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. A California agency that oversees judicial discipline in the state ruled Monday, that Judge Persky committed no misconduct in the case.

The California judge who drew worldwide condemnation for giving a six-month sentence to a Stanford athlete convicted of sexual assault was not biased and acted in accordance with a probation report, the state's judicial oversight commission said Monday.

The Commission on Judicial Performance received thousands of complaints against Judge Aaron Persky after his June 2016 sentence of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail plus three years probation for assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside a college party, the panel's chief counsel said.

Mr. Turner was convicted of three felony charges in the case – assault with intent to commit rape, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person with a foreign object (digital penetration), and sexual penetration of an unconscious person.

"There is not clear and convincing evidence of bias, abuse of authority, or other basis to conclude that Judge Persky engaged injudicial misconduct warranting discipline," commission director and chief counsel Victoria B. Henley wrote in the panel's report, released Monday.

Turner, 20 at the time of his sentencing, faced up to 14 years in prison for the three convictions. However, the penal code at that time allowed a defendant to be sentenced to probation. Prosecutors had sought six years in prison for Turner, but probation officials recommended a "moderate" county jail sentence followed by three years of probation and sex offender treatment, the report showed.

Persky's sentence followed that recommendation, the commission concluded.

In a detailed report that examined each of the major criticisms of Persky's sentence, the commission repeatedly cleared him of misconduct.

The complaints accused Persky of abusing his authority, displaying bias and imposing an unlawful sentence, the report said. The types of bias alleged included gender bias against the female victim, racial/socio-economic bias because a non-white defendant would have received a harsher sentence, and pro-Stanford bias stemming from the judge's own years as a student and athlete at the elite university near San Francisco.

Turner's case exploded on social media and ignited a debate about campus rape and the criminal justice system after a powerful statement the victim read during the June 2 sentencing was published online.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who has led opposition to the sentence and has begun a campaign to remove Persky from office, criticized the ruling.

"We strongly disagree with the Commission's conclusion on judicial bias and we believe that Judge Persky has in fact demonstrated a clear pattern of bias in cases of sex crimes and violence against women," Ms. Dauber said in an email.

The judge didn't respond to email and phone inquiries Monday. Ethical guidelines bar Persky from publicly discussing the case, said his attorney, Kathleen Ewins.

"The difficulties for judges who become the subject of heated public criticism, but are ethically prohibited from responding, cannot be overstated," Ewins said.

She said the commission "recognized he made a reasoned, but unpopular, decision."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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