Judge Aaron Persky Recuses Himself From A Case, Citing Brock Turner Publicity
On Thursday, California judge Aaron Persky recused himself from a child pornography case that was pending from last year. Persky has been in the news over the past few months due to the hotly debated sentence of six months that he dealt out to Brock Turner, a Stanford swimmer, who was convicted of sexual assault. Later in June, Persky was removed from a sex case after the Turner ruling by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office — this would have been Persky's first sex case after the Stanford sexual assault ruling. Now, he's recusing himself from another sex offender case in which his key decision would have been the first ruling on a sex case since the Turner debacle.
Persky was going to weigh in on whether to reduce plumber Robert Chain's felony conviction of child pornography to a misdemeanor. Back last year, it was reported that he might reduce Chain's conviction when he sentenced him to four days in county jail. As reported by The Mercury News, a reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor is not rare but in this case, it would have come a year earlier than the probation department's recommendation. More so, because of the way Persky handled Brock Turner's sentence and the resulting backlash, his recusal can be seen as his awareness of the public's doubt regarding his previous handling of sexual assault cases. This is evident in the written ruling he released on Thursday, citing his reasons:
While on vacation earlier this month, my family and I were exposed to publicity surrounding this case. 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."
His written ruling is a clear sign that Persky is well aware of his recent criticisms especially in relation to his lenient sentence to Brock Turner and the public's questioning of his impartiality. Currently, Persky is in the middle of a heated recall being led by Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford, that took off in June. What angered critics and the public alike the most was that Turner got off on a probation sentence of six months when he could have faced up to 14 years behind bars, with a minimum sentence of two years.
Persky justified his sentence by alluding to Turner's young age and lack of past criminal activity, and this only served to spark the ire of the Internet, especially when the victim read out an incredibly harrowing and personal account of the sexual assault at Turner's sentencing. At the time of Turner's sentencing, Persky said, "I mean, I take him at his word that, subjectively, that's his version of events," reported CBS News. Additionally, Persky felt that the a prison sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner and that the branding as a sex offender will have "collateral consequences."
When it comes to Chain's case, if Persky hadn't recused himself and had granted Chain's request for misdemeanor, Chain would still have to register as a sex offender but his name and photograph would be absent from any online database. According to court records, as reported by The Mercury News, Chain allegedly had a collection of 188 images of child pornography of girls (aged between 5-12 years), with at least one image of an infant. Chain's lawyer has declined to comment, The Mercury News reported.
The case, which will be heard on Oct. 6, will now be presided over by Judge Kenneth P. Barnum in Palo Alto.