This week, it was reported that Brock Turner – the former Stanford college student who sexually assaulted a woman while she lay unconscious behind a dumpster – is to be released from prison early, after serving only three months of his sentence.
Now, the judge who sentenced Turner to just six months in county jail for three counts of sexual assault has launched a campaign to keep his seat on the bench.
An official campaign to remove Aaron Persky from the bench was launched in the aftermath of Turner’s sentencing. The campaign has currently raised more than $250,000 in pledged funds and cash, while a Change.org petition to stop Persky presiding over any future legal cases has over 1.3m signatures.
In June, Persky was removed from a case involving a male nurse who sexually assaulted an anesthetised female patient after prosecutors said they lacked confidence in his ability to “fairly participate” in the proceeding. Last week, meanwhile, Persky transferred himself to civil court, meaning that he will no longer preside over criminal cases.
But Persky has now launched a rival website, RetainJudgePersky.com, where he is soliciting donations for his own campaign.
On his website, the judge makes his first public comments on the Stanford controversy. He writes: “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues.”
Persky also argues that he has a “reputation for being fair to both sides” and is an advocate for “judicial independence”.
Under California law, rape charges are usually punishable by a minimum of two years in state prison – a far heavier sentence than the one Persky handed down to Turner.
The Stanford case drew worldwide attention, largely for the powerful victim impact statement written by the woman attacked by Brock Turner. But it was not the first time that Persky had appeared to be remarkably lenient towards men accused of sexual and/or violent crimes against women.
In 2015, he sent a man to jail for less than a week for possessing child abuse images. Another man convicted of a domestic violence felony was sentenced to just 12 weeks so-called “weekend jail” in Persky’s courtroom, meaning that his Silicon Valley career was not inconvenienced.
Persky’s critics say that his decisions demonstrate a lack of interest in protecting female victims. But others have argued that allowing public pressure to end Persky’s career would set a dangerous legal precedent.
“If judges had to fear direct, personal repercussions as a result of their decisions in individual cases, the rule of law would suffer,” states an open letter signed by nearly 300 public defenders.
Law professors in California, meanwhile, have signed a letter saying: “Although the sentence may be lenient, there is nothing so far to establish that it is lawless, corrupt, or the product of a pattern of bias on the part of Judge Persky.”
However, Michele Landis Dauber, the Stanford law professor who launched the Recall Aaron Persky campaign, said on Tuesday that the campaign to have Persky removed from the bench would continue.
“Judicial independence is important… but in order to be exercised freely and appropriately, it has to be exercised without bias,” she said.
So far, Persky has reportedly raised $3,600 in contributions for his campaign.