Brock Turner, who became the face of the national conversation on rape culture and white privilege during the Stanford sexual assault case, is set to be released from a county jail after only serving three of the six months of his original sentence. And the Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge who sentenced Turner, Judge Aaron Persky, has been making headlines yet again, due to some impending career changes.
Turner's case isn't the only one that Persky has been criticized for in the past several months. Last year, Persky said that he would be "receptive" to reducing San Jose plumber Robert Chain's conviction for possessing child pornography from a felony to a misdemeanor, if he showed a change in behavior and stayed sober. Chain had received a fleeting sentence of just four days because the defendant's plea and display of remorse seemed sufficient, Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman claimed. But as the Stanford sexual assault case began to recirculate in the media in anticipation of Turner's release, the California judge filed a brief ruling in mid-August asking to be recused from the Chain case, saying his impartiality had been compromised because he had been exposed to publicity about the child pornography case while on vacation with family.
Shortly after recusing himself from that sex crime case, the judge requested to be reassigned to civil cases. Beginning Sept. 6 in San Jose, Judge Persky will no longer hear criminal cases and will preside solely over civil cases.
"Judge Persky 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," presiding Santa Clara Judge Rise Pichon said in a statement. And while that may be enough cause to celebrate for many who were critical of Persky's sentencing of Turner, it is only the beginning for those who were asking for judicial discipline for the judge. A recall campaign asking for the California Commission for Judicial Performance to remove Persky has accrued more than 1.2 million signatures, but no paperwork has been turned in regarding a special county recall.
So how is Judge Persky doing at the moment? Depends on what side you are coming from. He's still enduring criticism for his ruling over the Stanford case, and is still the subject of at least one recall campaign. But he's still presiding over cases.
Persky recently spoke out on the Turner ruling, stating that he believes "strongly in judicial independence," according to The Independent. He added that his ruling in the Stanford case was "fair" and said that "I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues. When your own rights and property are at stake, you want the judge to make a fair and lawful decision, free from political influence." In response to the recall campaign, he also launched a website called RetainJudgePersky.com. This statement and his latest maneuver may shelter him from criticism about further rulings, as he will no longer preside over criminal cases. But the change in position can't necessarily protect him from those who criticized Turner's brief stint in prison amid the compelling testimony and evidence from the woman who was sexually assaulted by Turner behind a dumpster on the the Stanford campus in January 2015.
That was the same case in which the defendant's father lamented that his son should be exempt from such a steep punishment for "20 minutes of action." The length of time taken for the act to be committed hardly seems as relevant as the act committed, and Judge Persky's ruling, as well as his defense of the statement regarding the "severe impact" a longer sentencing would supposedly have on Turner sums up why so many are saying this judge needs to be recalled. And a change in what sort of cases he presides over may not be enough to silence those who oppose Persky continuing his work as a judge.
Many aspects of that trial are utterly confounding and infuriating. The line of questioning the woman who survived the assault received, including interrogations into her party habits and fidelity to her boyfriend, only further reveal how deep-seated sexist attitudes are ingrained in our society. The woman, who was unconscious during the assault, released a highly moving 12-page letter, which was hailed as a triumph against the silence and alienation that victims of sexual assault often experience. That case prompted local lawmakers in California to close a loophole regarding sexual assault that took into account the degree to which a victim was able to defend themselves.
And now that Turner is being released after only serving half of the already very short sentence he was serving for three felony counts of sexual assault, Persky's role in the decision is sure to reignite scrutiny and outrage. He may be able to run from his critics, but moving past his judicial history is a whole other story.