Voters in California’s Santa Clara County will decide this summer whether or not to recall the judge who sentenced Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party.
A board of supervisors on Tuesday ordered Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky’s recall to be placed on the June 5 ballot after a petition calling for his removal garnered 95,000 signatures, making it eligible for a vote.
Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who has led the recall effort, said she was “extremely grateful” to the volunteers and signatories who made the ballot vote possible.
“Brock Turner’s victim Emily Doe wrote that when she learned that Judge Persky had sentenced Turner to only a few months in jail she was ‘struck silent.’ Today the voters of Santa Clara County spoke up loud and clear,” Dauber told HuffPost on Tuesday.
Persky came under fire after his 2016 sentencing of Turner, who was a freshman at Stanford University when he was accused of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus in 2015.
Turner faced up to 14 years in prison, but Persky sentenced him to six months in a county jail and three years of probation. He was released after just three months and was also required to register as a sex offender.
Turner filed an appeal to his sexual assault conviction in December.
The California Commission on Judicial Performance conducted an inquiry into possible misconduct by Persky following Turner’s trial and said it found no “clear and convincing evidence of bias.”
Persky has defended his action in the case. “California law requires every judge to consider rehabilitation and probation for first-time offenders,” he said in a statement. “It’s not always popular, but it’s the law, and I took an oath to follow it without regard to public opinion or any personal opinions I might have as a former prosecutor.”
But many advocates were outraged over what they felt to be an overly lenient verdict granted to Turner, in part based on his privilege as a white male and a star athlete.
“This historic campaign is part of a national social movement to end impunity for athletes and other privileged perpetrators of sexual assault and violence against women,” Dauber said.
In a devastating statement read out loud by the victim in court and published online on media outlets, the 23-year-old woman, referred to “Emily Doe” in news reports, described waking up in the hospital and being told she was a “rape victim.”
“I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five year old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up,” she wrote.
During the trial, she said, Turner’s attorneys asked her questions like, “What were you wearing” and “How much did you drink?”
Opponents of the recall effort, however, say Turner received a fair trial and that letting voters decide Persky’s fate would undermine the judicial system.
The Santa Clara County Bar Association opposes the proposed recall and has urged residents to vote “no” in June.
In a January op-ed for The Sacramento Bee, University of California, Berkeley’s law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky called the recall campaign “a threat to judicial independence.”
“Justice, and all of us, will suffer when judges base their decisions on what will satisfy the voters,” he wrote.
But Dauber disagreed, noting that Persky holds an elected position and stands for re-election every six years.
“This recall simply moves the date of his election from 2022 to 2018,” she said. “Judges at his level are not fully independent like federal judges. They are elected and accountable to the people they serve.”