A California judge who became a lightning rod in the national debate over campus sexual assault after he sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer has been cleared of judicial misconduct by an independent state agency.
California Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner, who was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a trash bin outside a party, to six months in county jail, three years of probation, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Turner had faced as many as 14 years in prison, and because the trial had been so closely watched – the victim’s searing, eloquent letter about the assault went viral, and even elicited a response from Vice President Biden – many people were furious at a punishment that seemed to them to be excessively lenient.
A campaign to recall the judge from office was launched soon after he issued the sentence in June. The Commission on Judicial Performance, the independent state agency responsible for investigating and disciplining judges, received thousands of complaints about Persky. Many thought he had abused his authority, not taken sexual assault seriously enough, and, as a former student and athlete at Stanford himself, shown bias, according to the commission.
But after reviewing the facts of the case, the commission voted unanimously to close its preliminary investigation without discipline. They wrote:
“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.
“First, the sentence was within the parameters set by law and was therefore within the judge’s discretion.
“Second, the judge performed a multi-factor balancing assessment prescribed by law that took into account both the victim and the defendant.
“Third, the judge’s sentence was consistent with the recommendation in the probation report, the purpose of which is to fairly and completely evaluate various factors and provide the judge with a recommended sentence.
“Fourth, comparison to other cases handled by Judge Persky that were publicly identified does not support a finding of bias. The judge did not preside over the plea or sentencing in one of the cases. In each of the four other cases, Judge Persky’s sentencing decision was either the result of a negotiated agreement between the prosecution and the defense, aligned with the recommendation of the probation department, or both.
“Fifth, the judge’s contacts with Stanford University are insufficient to require disclosure or disqualification.”
A spokesman for the court did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.