For the first time in decades, Northern California voters are deciding whether to remove a judge from office. Almost two years to the day after he sentenced a former Stanford University student for sexual assault, Santa Clara County judge Aaron Persky will face voters.
In 2016, Brock Turner was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault for penetrating a drunk and unconscious woman outside a fraternity house. He was spotted by two foreign students, who testified that they intervened because the woman looked like she was unconscious. Turner tried to flee the scene when they approached but they restrained him until police arrived.
Turner could have received up to 14 years in prison for the sexual assault. Prosecutors recommended six years. Instead, Persky followed a recommendation from the county probation department and sentenced Turner to six months in county jail.
Critics denounced it as too lenient and complained that Persky had discounted the impact of the sexual assault on the victim. They also said the sentence underscored the inequity of the criminal justice system. Turner, a white male from an upper middle-class neighborhood, was a prominent student athlete at Stanford University.
Citing judicial ethics, Persky has declined to discuss the case in detail because Turner has appealed. But Persky told the Associated Press in an interview that he has no regrets over how he handled the case or his courtroom.
The case garnered international attention after BuzzFeed published the eloquent statement the victim, known as Emily Doe, read before Turner's sentencing. She also recounted the ordeal of the investigation and Turner's trial, where she was cross-examined about her drinking habits and sexual experience.
"You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today... Instead of taking time to heal, I was taking time to recall the night in excruciating detail, in order to prepare for the attorney's questions that would be invasive, aggressive, and designed to steer me off course, to contradict myself, my sister, phrased in ways to manipulate my answers."
Shortly after the sentence was handed down, Stanford University professor Michele Dauber launched the effort to recall Persky. The case has turned into one of the first electoral tests of the #MeToo movement's political clout.
If it succeeds, Persky would be the first California judge recalled from office since 1932.
Personal injury attorney Angela F. Storey and Santa Clara County assistant district attorney Cindy Seeley Hendrickson are vying to replace Persky if he is recalled.
After serving three months of his six month sentence, Turner was released from jail for good behavior. He is required to register for life as a sex offender.