PALO ALTO -- The debate over whether to oust Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky over the light jail sentence he gave a former Stanford athlete convicted of sexual assault heated up anew Wednesday, with a new letter from supporters in the legal field and critics announcing the latest petition.
A group of 46 professors from leading law schools in California issued the letter opposing the recall of Persky, who sentenced former Stanford student Brock Turner to six months in jail rather than two years in state prison for sexually assaulting an intoxicated unconscious woman. The recall movement is being led by Stanford Law School professor Michele Dauber, a friend of the victim's family and a longtime activist against campus sexual assault.
Also on Wednesday, a new group of activists announced they plan to submit 1.2 million signatures on Monday calling for Persky's removal, though not through a recall. The signatures were gathered by Miami-area nurse Maria Ruiz on change.org and will be turned over to the Superior Court administration at noon. It was not clear Wednesday how much overlap there was between this petition and an earlier one on multiple platforms, including MoveOn.org, which was signed earlier this summer by more than a million people.
The professors backing the judge, including 11 who teach at Stanford, are opposed to the proposed recall on the grounds that the sentence was lawful and dovetailed with a probation officer's recommendation. Persky's ouster, they wrote, would cause great harm, because judges may well feel pressured into making decisions based on public opinion. Other groups, including the California Judges Association, have issued similar statements expressing concern about judicial independence.
Also on Monday, Dauber and the Committee to Recall Judge Persky are holding a benefit concert in Brooklyn to raise money for the recall, which cannot begin until next year.
The petitions and the professors' letter come after Persky sentenced Turner in June to six months in jail rather than the minimum state prison term of two years for digitally penetrating an intoxicated unconscious woman outside a campus fraternity party.
Persky has faced intense international criticism over the sentence. In addition to the petitions, more than 1,000 self-identified survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence signed onto a letter from the women's advocacy group UltraViolet, urging the California Commission on Judicial Performance to remove Persky.
Among the group of academics who signed the letter are Stanford professor Joan Petersilia, Santa Clara University professor Gerald Uelmen and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine's law school.
"If disappointed litigants can influence the outcomes of future cases by unseating judges who rule against their interests," the letter said, "the administration of justice quickly falls into the hands of the wealthy, special interest groups, and anyone who wants to launch a political action committee on the heels of media coverage of a controversial case."
On Wednesday, Dauber responded to her colleagues' letter.
"Our disagreement is we believe Judge Persky exhibits a clear pattern of bias against sexual violence and violence against women," she said. "We think the voters will agree."
The professors, however, wrote that "although the sentence may be lenient, there is nothing so far to establish that it is lawless, corrupt, or the product of a pattern of bias on the part of Judge Persky."
"A state already struggling with budget crippling, racially disproportionate mass incarceration and unconstitutional prison conditions will struggle more to accommodate harsher sentences imposed by fearful, or worse still, opportunistic judges," the letter said.
Prosecutors had sought six years in state prison, citing the passed-out victim's vulnerability, the impact the crime had on her and Turner's dishonesty about his history of drinking. But the judge followed probation officers' recommendation for a shorter sentence in jail, noting his youth, intoxication at the time and previously clean record. Turner must also register for the rest of his life as a sex offender.
With credit for good behavior, Turner will serve half his sentence -- three months. The Ohio native, who withdrew from Stanford after his arrest in January 2015, is set to be released Sept. 2.
A spokeswoman for Ruiz said the nurse had timed her signature presentation in hopes of embarrassing the many judges expected to gather Monday at the grand opening of the court's new family courthouse on North First Street.
However, the court has postponed the opening until Aug. 15 for unrelated reasons, primarily that it is still waiting for the state fire marshal to issue the final public occupancy certificate. Ruiz still plans to present it to the presiding judge, whose courtroom is located across the street from the new courthouse in San Jose.
"This petition delivery serves as a visible manifestation of the public's outrage and distaste for how rape cases are treated in this country," Ruiz said in a written statement.
Originally posted by The Mercury News
By Tracey Kaplan
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