California's Commission on Judicial Performance concluded Monday that Judge Aaron Persky should not be punished for personal bias in the light sentencing of ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted in March of sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated woman. The prosecutor requested a six-year sentence, Persky gave Turner six months. The commission's decision was not unexpected, given its reputation for being a "toothless watchdog," and more broadly because of the legal history of judges giving weak punishments for sexual assault. Turner, who remains on probation after being found guilty of three felonies, was released after serving three months.
After getting thousands of complaints about Persky's handling of Turner's case, along with assertions that showed a pattern of bias in other similar cases, here's how the commission responded:
First, the sentence was within the parameters set by law and was therefore within the judge's discretion. Second, the judge performed a multi-factor balancing assessment prescribed by law that took into account both the victim and the defendant. Third, the judge's sentence was consistent with the recommendation in the probation report, the purpose of which is to fairly and completely evaluate various factors and provide the judge with a recommended sentence. Fourth, comparison to other cases handled by Judge Persky that were publicly identified does not support a finding of bias.
While the commission's decision no doubt dismays many who have followed the Turner saga, society's collective inability to take seriously sexual assault runs deeper than the injustice brought by Persky's handiwork. Indeed, a nationwide failure to adequately punish sexual assault actually laid the groundwork for his colleagues to call his conduct "reasonable."
Attention on Turner's case multiplied after the 23-year-old survivor read a 12-page account in court of his attack, along with its aftermath, and her 7,200 words were published by Buzzfeed and other outlets. It appears that she has yet to make a statement about the commission's decision.
The Mercury News notes that a recall attempt of Persky will continue in Santa Clara County, where voters will have a chance to remove him from the bench. The finding in Persky's favor by a collection of fellow judges might help swell the outrage, but only if the voting public wants to establish precedent where others won't.