Santa Clara County prosecutors have blocked the judge who sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail in a sexual assault case from hearing an upcoming sex crimes case.
The move comes as Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky faces growing criticism over Turner’s sentence, which many consider far too lenient.
“This is a rare and carefully considered step,” prosecutors said in a statement.
The district attorney’s move came after the judge dismissed a non-sex crimes case before the jury could deliberate.
“We are disappointed and puzzled at Judge Persky’s unusual decision to unilaterally dismiss a case before the jury could deliberate,” Dist. Atty Jeff Rosen said. “After this and the recent turn of events, we lack confidence that Judge Persky can fairly participate in this upcoming hearing in which a male nurse sexually assaulted an anesthetized female patient. In the future, we will evaluate each case on its own merits and decide if we should use our legal right to ask for another judge in order to protect public safety and pursue justice.”
California court procedure allows prosecutors and defense lawyers to file a motion to remove a judge from a case and have it reassigned to another jurist.
Prosecutors made the move to remove Persky after several jurors refused to serve in the judge’s courtroom because of his actions in the Turner case.
Persky could not be reached for comment.
An effort to recall Persky is gaining steam, with several political groups vowing to raise money for the campaign.
One of the jurors who voted to convict Turner of sexual assault wrote a letter to Persky saying he was “absolutely shocked and appalled” at the sentence.
On Monday, some state lawmakers said the Turner case proved that the definition of rape was out of date and needed updating.
When Turner was convicted by a jury in March, he faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence him to a six-year prison term for the three felony counts of which he was found guilty, assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person.
Later, Turner’s chief probation officer, Monica Lassettre, recommended a sentence of county jail, three years’ probation and sex offender treatment, according to a probation report.
In the weeks after Turner’s sentencing, nearly 1 million people signed online petitions calling on the California Commission for Judicial Performance to remove Persky.
Persky, who was appointed to the bench by Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, is up for reelection in November.
So far, no one has submitted paperwork to challenge Persky or recall him, according to Anita Torres, spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County registrar of voters.
The woman who was sexually assaulted by Turner read a 12-page letter in open court, calling the lack of a state prison sentence “a soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of the assaults.”
More than 250 students signed a letter submitted to Persky before Turner’s sentencing, asking that he be held accountable for his actions.
At Sunday’s commencement ceremony, several Stanford students waved signs in support of victims of sexual assault and called on university officials to publicly release names of students who were found responsible for sexual assault.
Judges are rarely recalled from office in California. Most who do leave office are removed following an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Performance with a hearing on an issue of serious abuse, Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson told The Times last week.
An effort to recall Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly for sentencing a child molester to 10 years instead of 25 years to life failed this year. Nancy Wieben Stock, a now-retired Orange County judge, weathered an unsuccessful recall effort in the 1990s after she awarded O.J. Simpson custody of his two children following his acquittal on charges of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson.
Some in Santa Clara County have come to the judge’s defense, saying he is a strong jurist who was within his rights to hand down the sentence. Legal experts have said the sentence was within the law but lighter than normal for such cases.