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Stanford rape case judge recuses himself from all criminal cases

Judge Aaron Persky in June handed down a sentence of six months jail time to Brock Turner, an All-American swimmer and Stanford student convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
August 26, 2016, 4:55pm
This June 27, 2011 file photo shows Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky. (Jason Doiy/The Recorder via AP, File)

Aaron Persky, the judge who ruled in a high-profile sexual assault case involving a Stanford University student, has recused himself from all criminal cases and requested a transfer to the civil division of Santa Clara County superior court.

Persky in June handed down a sentence of six months jail time to Brock Turner, an All-American Stanford student athlete convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman by a dumpster outside a fraternity house. Persky acknowledged the public outrage over the sentence this week, according to a statement by the county's presiding judge.

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"Judge Perky 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," said Presiding Judge Risë Jones Pichon.

"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's statement went on.

That's more confidence than the district attorney had in Persky when the D.A.'s office pulled him from another sexual abuse case.

Related: Judge in Stanford Rape Case Removed From Another Sexual Assault Trial

Persky's decision in the Turner case shocked the public and one juror even wrote a letter saying they were "absolutely shocked and appalled" at the six-month sentence.

"After the guilty verdict I expected that this case would serve as a very strong deterrent to on-campus assaults, but with the ridiculously lenient sentence that Brock Turner received, I am afraid that it makes a mockery of the whole trial and the ability of the justice system to protect victims of assault and rape," the letter from an anonymous juror to Persky read.

Activists have also started a campaign to remove Persky from the bench in Santa Clara County, alleging the judge has a tendency toward lenient sentences for convicted abusers, said law professor Michele Landis Dauber.

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"This doesn't change anything for us. We're pleased that Judge Persky won't be handling criminal matters at least temporarily," Dauber said, according to the Guardian.

Dauber and others charge that Persky's light sentence came down to race and class bias: Turner, who was 19 at the time of the sexual assault, is white and was attending Stanford on a swimming scholarship. Persky is also a Stanford alumnus and former captain of the university's lacrosse team.

In June, Persky sentenced another defendant facing similar charges to three years in prison — but that defendant was 32-year-old Raul Ramirez, who is Latino.

Related: Stanford Rapist Brock Turner Will Get Out of Jail Three Months Early

Two years is the miniumum recommended sentence in California for the type of sexual assault charges that Turner faced. But Persky said he gave the former student the light sentence because his case was "unusual" and that he would be severely impacted by time spent in prison.

'What's happened with Mr Ramirez is standard. The anomaly is the Stanford case,' Defense attorney Alexander Cross, who briefly represented Ramirez, told the Guardian.

An Associated Press study of Persky's decisions found that he showed no bias in other cases he presided over.

Despite the Turner ruling, Cook agreed with this assessment. He and other attorney's told the Guardian that other factors played a part in Ramiriz receiving the harsher ruling, including that he was very poor, that California treats unconscious sexual assault victims differently from conscious victims, and that Persky played a passive role in the plea agreement reached between Ramirez's defense and prosecutors.

The system, he says, also favors wealthier, privileged defendants.

"I've found him to be one of the fairest judges," Cross told the Guardian.

Turner is expected to serve only three months of his six-month sentence.