Tuesday, December 20, 2016
CJP Closes Probe of Judge Persky, Finds No Wrongdoing
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
There is no basis on which to discipline Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky in connection with his sentencing of a former Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, the Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday.
The commission said in a statement that it had voted unanimously, with two members recused, to close the case. The CJP normally does not comment on cases that do not result in public discipline or the initiation of formal proceedings, but is permitted to issue an “explanatory statement” when a case has attracted widespread publicity.
The panel said it received thousands of complaints demanding Persky be punished over Brock Turner’s sentence, which required the now-21-year-old to register as a sex offender for life. 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.
Some critics accused the judge of coddling Turner because they were both Stanford athletes, or of showing gender bias by failing to take campus sexual assault seriously enough. Others say the case underscored inequities in the criminal justice system because Turner could afford a private attorney rather than having one appointed by the court.
The commission noted, however, that the sentence was within the parameters of the judge’s statutory discretion and consistent with the recommendations of the probation department. Because the CJP is not court or review, it said, it can only impose discipline based on a judicial decision when there is clear and convincing proof of “bad faith, bias, abuse of authority, disregard for fundamental rights, intentional disregard of the law, or any purpose other than the faithful discharge of judicial duty.”
That standard was not met, the commission said.
Persky said he was following a recommendation from the local probation department and cited Turner’s clean criminal record and the effect the conviction would have on Turner’s life in departing from the minimum sentence of two years in prison. Prosecutors had argued for six years.
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.”
Persky now handles civil matters after he asked to be removed from criminal cases in August. He has faced physical threats, his attorney said.
The judge also remains the target of a recall campaign, led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber.
“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,” Dauber said.
The commission said that complainants had cited five other cases that allegedly indicated bias on Persky’s part, but that one was a case where he did not handle the plea or the sentencing, and the others were cases where he followed a plea agreement and/or a probation department recommendation.
The recall campaign has hired a professional signature-gathering company to help get Persky’s recall question before voters in November, Dauber said. It has to obtain about 80,000 signatures from registered Santa Clara County voters.
Meanwhile, Turner was released from jail in September after serving three months and returned to his native Ohio, where he remains on probation for three years and is a registered sex offender for life.
A jury had found him guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault for attacking a young woman passed out from too much alcohol outside a fraternity party in 2015.
Turner was on top of her behind a trash bin when two graduate students passing by on bicycles confronted him. When Turner tried to flee, they tackled and held him on the ground until police arrived.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company