Judge in Stanford rape case asks for move to civil cases

The Santa Clara judge who has faced widespread criticism and a recall effort after sentencing a former Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail for sexual assault has voluntarily moved to civil court.

The Santa Clara Superior Court released a statement Thursday saying Judge Aaron Persky will move to the civil court in San Jose. Judge Vincent Chiarello will take his place in Palo Alto.

Presiding Judge Risë Jones Pichon said Persky asked for the move to reduce the distraction that reaction to the sentencing of Brock Turner has brought to his courtroom.

"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.

She added that 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 will be effective Sept. 6.

While court reassignments are generally made in January, the move was possible because both judges “simply want to swap assignments for which they are both eminently qualified,” Pichon said.

The move comes only days after Persky — who is facing a recall effort by those who say the sentence he imposed on Turner for the sexual assault was too lenient — removed himself from a case in which he was set to decide whether to reduce the conviction of a plumber for possession of child pornography from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Persky announced his recusal in a brief written ruling saying the public attention directed at him threatened the perception of his impartiality. 

“While on vacation earlier this month, my family and I were exposed to publicity surrounding this case,” the ruling said. “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.’ ”

While sentencing the plumber to four days in jail last year, Persky indicated he might be open to reducing the conviction to a misdemeanor, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Critics saw the comment as further evidence of Persky’s leniency toward sex offenders. Nearly 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for the ouster of Persky, who is a Stanford alumnus.

Michelle Dauber, the Stanford law professor behind the recall effort, said that although Persky’s reassignment 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 to the Associated Press. “In our opinion, Judge Persky is biased and should not be on the bench.”

Criticism of Persky was sparked by his sentencing of Turner in June. The former Stanford swimmer was convicted of assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person.

Turner attacked an unconscious woman behind a garbage bin on the Stanford University campus in January 2015

He faced a maximum of 14 years in prison; prosecutors asked Persky to sentence him to a six-year term. 

Instead, Persky sentenced Turner to six months in county jail and three years of probation. Turner probably will serve only half of that sentence because of California’s felony sentencing realignment.

The judge said a harsher penalty would have a “severe impact” on Turner, 20.

In court, the unidentified victim read a 12-page, single-spaced letter that went viral after she gave it to the media. She said she was re-victimized during the trial by Turner’s assertion that she had consented. 

The woman called Turner’s sentence “a soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of the assaults.”

doug.smith@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATDoug

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

9:15 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional comments and details.

This article was originally published at 6:45 p.m.

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