Judge in Stanford rape case will no longer hear criminal matters

This June 27, 2011, photo shows Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who drew criticism for sentencing former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to only six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.

Jason Doiy/The Recorder via AP

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- A California court said Thursday that a judge who was criticized for ordering a lenient six-month jail sentence in a rape case against a former Stanford University swimmer will no longer hear criminal matters by his own request.

Santa Clara County Presiding Judge Rise Pichon said she has granted the request of Judge Aaron Persky.

“While I firmly believe in Judge Persky’s ability to serve in his current assignment, he has requested to be assigned to the civil division, in which he previously served,” Pichon said in a statement. “Judge Persky believes the change will aid the public and the court by reducing the distractions that threaten to interfere with his ability to effectively discharge the duties of his current criminal assignment.”

The move is not necessarily permanent. The assignment is subject to an annual review and takes effect Sept. 6.

Persky ordered the six-month sentence for Brock Turner​, a Dayton, Ohio, resident who had been attending Stanford on a swimming scholarship.

Authorities say Turner sexually assaulted a girl while she was passed out near a trash bin.

The 23-year-old victim read an impassioned statement at the sentencing hearing. She described the assault in graphic detail and said her “independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition.”  

In making the ruling, Persky said he took into consideration that Turner didn’t have previous convictions, was young, wasn’t armed during the crime, didn’t demonstrate criminal sophistication, would be willing to comply with terms of probation, and wouldn’t be a danger to others if not imprisoned. He also found a prison sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, and his life would suffer severe “collateral consequences” resulting from the felony conviction because of the intense publicity and the requirement to register as a sex offender.  

Turner could have faced up to 14 years behind bars.  

The case sparked a national debate on college drinking and sexual assault and led to a recall effort against the judge.

Michelle Dauber, the Stanford law professor behind the recall effort, said that while the move from Persky is welcome, the recall attempt will continue, in part because Persky “can still transfer back to hearing criminal cases any time he chooses.”

“The issue of his judicial bias in favor of privileged defendants in sex crimes and domestic violence still needs to be addressed by the voters of Santa Clara County,” Dauber said in an email. “In our opinion, Judge Persky is biased and should not be on the bench.”

Persky was scheduled this week to consider a request from Robert Chain to reduce his conviction for possessing child pornography from a felony to a misdemeanor. The judge said last year he would be receptive to the idea if the plumber stayed sober.   

Earlier this week, Persky recused himself from the case. 

The Mercury News reported Monday that Persky filed a statement with the court saying that some people might doubt that he could be impartial.  

“While on vacation earlier this month, my family and I were exposed to publicity surrounding this case,” the judge wrote in his brief ruling. “This publicity has resulted in a personal family situation such that ‘a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial.’“