PALO ALTO -- The Santa Clara County judge facing a recall threat for giving a relatively light sentence to former Stanford student Brock Turner has disqualified himself from making his first key decision in another sex case.
In a brief statement filed with the court, Judge Aaron Persky said that while on vacation, he and his family were exposed to publicity surrounding the new case which resulted in "a personal family situation."
Persky was to decide this week whether to reduce plumber Robert Chain's felony conviction for possession of child pornography to a misdemeanor, as he indicated he might when he sentenced Chain to four days in county jail last year.
Such reductions are not unheard of, but in Chain's case, it would have come a year earlier than a probation officer recommended and has been cited by Persky's critics as an example of his unwarranted leniency toward sex offenders. Most judges impose six-month sentences on defendants in similar cases.
On Thursday, the judge abruptly notified the lawyers in the case who were scheduled to appear in his Palo Alto courtroom on Friday. He announced his recusal and issued a brief written ruling.
"While on vacation earlier this month, my family and I were exposed to publicity surrounding this case,'' the ruling said. "This publicity has resulted in a personal family situation such that 'a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial.' ''
If Persky had granted Chain's request, the plumber would still have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life for having graphic images on his computer. But his name and photograph would no longer appear on an online list of offenders. According to court records, Chain had 188 images of child pornography on his Samsung tablet depicting girls 5 to 12 years old, and at least one image of an infant.
The issue is now set to be decided by Judge Kenneth P. Barnum in Palo Alto on Oct. 6.
Persky is the target of a recall campaign that started in June after he followed a probation department recommendation and sentenced former Stanford swimmer Turner to six months in county jail for sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman outside a campus frat party. The minimum punishment for the three felonies Turner was convicted of -- including assault to commit rape -- carried a mandatory prison sentence of two years in prison. But Persky, citing Turner's youth and lack of a criminal record, agreed with the probation department, sparking outrage that has spread globally through social media.
Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who is friends with the victim and is leading the recall, said she is pleased by Perksy's recusal.
"We don't believe Persky was doing a good job in this case in the first place, or in other cases involving sex or violent crimes against women,'' Dauber said Monday. "Other judges sentence so differently that we're pleased another judge will be deciding this.''
Gary Goodman, a deputy public defender who opposes a recall, saw it quite differently.
"This is an example of his integrity,'' Goodman said. "He's able to realize it could have an effect, and his decision to remove himself is him saying, 'it's not all about me.' ''
During Chain's sentencing last year, prosecutors didn't object on the record. But they have since filed an 11-page brief opposing the reduction of his conviction to a misdemeanor.
Chain's lawyer declined to comment. Court records show Persky appeared to be favorably impressed by the plumber's effort to change his life. Chain, who is an alcoholic, according to the records, had stayed sober for more than a year and kept his job. He also went to regular therapy sessions, acknowledging for the first time that he had been molested as a child, sources said. By now, he has also completed a yearlong sex offender management program and not used a computer without a probation officer's approval.
Original article posted by East Bay Times
By Tracey Kaplan
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