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Thousands push for judge in Stanford sex assault case to be removed

SAN FRANCISCO -- A judge who sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman is facing widespread backlash and criticism, and even calls for him to be removed from the bench.

On campus and on social media, Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky has been vilified as too lenient on a privileged athlete from a top-tier swimming program in a case that captured the national spotlight.

Some are urging for his removal in Change.org petitions. One Change.org petition already has more then 100,000 signatures online. There's also a second campaign to review the case and the judge's sentence.

"Judge Persky failed to see that the fact that Brock Turner is a white male star athlete at a prestigious university does not entitle him to leniency," the petition reads. "He also failed to send the message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender or other factors. Please help rectify this travesty to justice."

Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber, a friend of the victim, launched a campaign to remove Persky from the bench.

"This sentence is making all women at Stanford less safe because its sending the message to women student if this happens to you, you are on your own and its sending the message to potential perpetrators I have your back," Dauber told CBS News' John Blackstone.

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Stanford University law professor Michele Dauber.

CBS News

Brock Turner faced a maximum of 14 years in prison after being convicted of three counts of sexual assault in the Jan. 18, 2015 incident. In handing down the six-month sentence, Persky said a longer term would have a "severe impact" on Turner. It was a decision that has drawn widespread criticism.

Brock is expected to serve three months if his behavior in jail is good, CBS San Francisco reported. Turner will also have to register as a sex offender for life and complete a sex offender management program.

Alaleh Kianerci, the prosecutor in the case, told CBS News' John Blackstone she cried after the sentencing was handed down.

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Alaleh Kianerci.

CBS News

"I felt like I didn't do my part in representing her interests in the case because of the slap-on-the-wrist sentence," she said.

Persky is barred from commenting on the case because Turner is appealing his conviction, court spokesman Joe Macaluso said.

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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, AP

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office argued for a prison sentence for Turner, said Persky should not lose his job because of the ruling.

"While I strongly disagree with the sentence that Judge Persky issued in the Brock Turner case, I do not believe he should be removed from his judgeship," Rosen said in a statement Monday. His office would not comment further.

Persky, who has no record of judicial discipline, was previously a Santa Clara County prosecutor responsible for keeping sexual predators locked up. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis appointed him to the bench in 2003.

Persky earned two undergraduate degrees from Stanford in 1984 and 1985, and he said in campaign literature that he was captain of the school's lacrosse team, a club sport. Persky graduated from the University of California, Berkeley's law school in 1990.

Criticism surrounding the case intensified when Dauber, the law professor, released a letter that Turner's father wrote to the judge before sentencing, pleading for leniency and telling the court his son has already paid a steep price for "20 minutes of action."

Turner has left Stanford, whose men's swim team is one of the top 10 teams in the country this season, and his once-promising Olympic-hopeful swimming career has ended abruptly.

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Brock Turner's mugshot.

Santa Clara County Office of the Sheriff

"His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve," the father wrote. "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

An emotional statement that the 23-year-old victim read in court also received widespread attention.

"My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty," she said.

She was so intoxicated that she did not wake up until hours after the attack. Turner also was intoxicated. The Associated Press and CBS News does not generally identify victims of sexual abuse or assault.

Persky said in court Thursday that he was following the recommendation of the county's probation department by sentencing Brock Turner to six months in county jail and three years' probation.

The judge cited Turner's clean criminal record and the effect the conviction will have on his life. The local prosecutor disagreed with the sentence, arguing for six years for crimes that could have sent Turner to prison for 10 years.

But lawyers who have appeared in Persky's court call him a fair and conservative judge in the county in the heart of Silicon Valley.

"He is an absolutely solid and respected judge," said Santa Clara County deputy public defender Gary Goodman. "Persky made the right decision."

Barbara Muller, a criminal defense attorney who works two weeks a month in Persky's court, says he "is definitely one of the fairest judges" in the county.

"He considers all facts and is very thorough," Muller said. "He plays it right down the middle."

Turner and the victim met for the first time at an on-campus fraternity party the night of Jan. 17, 2015. The victim was not a Stanford student, but a resident of nearby Palo Alto.

Witnesses say they left the party together in the early morning hours. Soon after, two graduate students say they saw Turner on top of the victim and thrusting his hips. One of the students said it appeared the victim was unconscious and that Turner tried to run off when they approached to check on the woman.

The student chased after Turner, tackled him and held him down until police arrived. The woman was unconscious and taken to a nearby hospital.

Turner was charged with rape and three other felony counts. The rape charges were dropped in October, and a jury in March convicted him of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated victim and two charges of digitally penetrating an unconscious and intoxicated victim.