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Opinion

Firing the judge in Brock Turner sex assault case was a step toward mob rule

Aaron Persky was recalled as a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge in 2018 over his lenient ruling in a sex assault case. This week, he was fired as a high school tennis coach.
(Anda Chu / TNS)
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A few questions for the spineless school bureaucrats who just fired tennis coach Aaron Persky because of a controversial sentence he handed down when he was a judge:

You do realize, don’t you, that Persky was the judge in the 2015 sex assault case against Brock Turner, and not the attacker himself? And that Persky’s sentence of six months, outrageously and unacceptably lenient though it was, comported with the law as it existed on the books at the time and a recommendation from the Santa Clara County Probation Department? And that even though voters ousted Persky from the bench for the ruling, he hadn’t been implicated in any misconduct, malpractice or, certainly, crime?

We ask, because Persky’s firing as junior varsity tennis coach at Lynbrook High School in San Jose is so ridiculously gratuitous, cowardly and off-base. The action helps turn the quest for justice into mob rule, the law into a popularity contest and the independent judiciary into an endangered species.

Certainly our society still has a great distance to go to correct decades — centuries, really — of policies and attitudes that dismiss sexual attacks perpetrated against women by socially privileged men, who then are protected by laws that fail to hold them accountable and fail to recognize the trauma inflicted on victims. And yes, the light sentence Persky handed down against Stanford swimmer Brock Turner perpetuated the problem. Judges should be able to exercise discretion within the law, and Persky did, but California’s judicial system gives voters final oversight. Persky paid for his unpopular decision with his career.

Now, because of that ruling, is the ex-judge to be seen as so bereft of moral fiber that he shouldn’t have any other career either? Is he branded for life, grouped in with the assailant he sent to jail, because he didn’t send him for long enough?

That’s the gist of the student petition that apparently led to his firing. As a coach he’s a mandatory reporter of abuse, the argument goes, but he couldn’t possibly be trusted with that job — supposedly because of the unsatisfactory sentence he gave Turner. And besides, he lost an election (a judicial recall), so how could he be qualified to be a tennis coach?

That’s a chilling sort of mentality. It’s the kind of thinking that led the good people of California to create a criminal justice system that made eternal pariahs of former offenders and made irredeemable “predators” of troubled juveniles. It’s the thinking that promoted judges and prosecutors who exercised their discretion not for fairness but for unremitting punishment. It’s the mentality that we now are trying hard to correct, after recognizing that not every mistake is a permanent character flaw and not every punishment should last forever.

The Fremont Union High School District’s firing of Aaron Persky is an act of vengeance and political (take your pick) correctness or cowardice. Above all, it’s a bad lesson — in proportionality, in courage and in justice.

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