Judge Aaron Persky, the Santa Clara County magistrate who sentenced former Stanford student Brock Turner to six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, was removed from office by California voters Tuesday.
Persky, now the first judge recalled by voters in some 80 years, warned that the removal campaign posed a threat to judicial independence.
Tuesday morning returns showed the recall carrying by a significant measure, with 60 percent of voters favoring removal.
“Tonight’s results mirror what we heard while we were out talking to voters,” said Michele Dauber, a Stanford Law School professor and lead organizer of the recall effort. “We are thankful for our supporters and every person who donated their time — it truly made a difference.”
Critics charged that the Turner sentence, which commanded national attention after his victim’s impact statement became an online sensation, keeps with his general tendency to accord favorable treatment towards young, male defendants, particularly student athletes. (RELATED: Netflix’s ‘Making A Murderer’ Shows Grim Reality Of False Confessions, Dassey Lawyers Tell Supreme Court)
Much of the state’s legal establishment opposed the recall, though the removal campaign attracted support from the state’s congressional delegation, women’s interest groups, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat.
The recall even divided California’s sprawling progressive coalition. Some thought Persky’s removal was an important component of the national reckoning with sexual misconduct; however, others thought the judge’s conduct — if unfortunate in result — was broadly consistent with liberal goals. These progressives, including many of Dauber’s colleagues on the Stanford Law faculty, counseled against the incarceration of first-time offenders, particularly in a state with a prison overcrowding crisis, and fear the “Persky effect” will redound adversely upon minority defendants.
Assistant District Attorney Cindy Hendrickson won the race to succeed Persky. The judge never directly addressed the Turner case during the campaign, but insisted he has an obligation to consider the best interests of all the parties before him.
“As a judge, my role is to consider both sides,” he said in a statement submitted to county elections officials. “It’s not always popular, but it’s the law, and I took an oath to follow it without regard to public opinion or my opinions as a former prosecutor.”
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