In 2016, Stanford swimmer Brock Turner became infamous following accusations that he had sexually assaulted a drunk, unconscious woman. When he was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault, Turner could have faced up to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors recommended six years, while Turner’s defense sought a “moderate” sentence in the county jail. The judge overseeing the case, Aaron Persky, joined Turner in infamy when, following Emily Doe’s devastating victim impact statement, he ruled that Turner serve six months in county jail. Turner only ended up serving three.
Justice has a funny way of finding you, though, because Aaron Persky has been officially recalled by his voters after the California primaries. Fifty-nine percent of voters moved to remove the judge, making Persky the first judge recalled in California since 1932 and the first judge recalled in the United States since 1977.
The Turner case and other suspect rulings on sexual assault and domestic violence cases led Stanford Law School professor Michele Dauber to launch her Recall Judge Aaron Persky campaign. “It’s clear we need judges who understand sexual assault and violence against women and take it seriously,” the campaign’s homepage reads. “It’s up to us, the voters, to make a difference.”
And make a difference they did, as Santa Clara County voters did something that hasn’t been done in California in nearly 90 years. In his statement explaining the Turner ruling, Judge Persky justified Turner’s lenient sentence by citing his youth, his character witnesses and his projected ability to comply with probation. “I think that he will not be a danger to others,” Persky said. “I think he has a good chance of complying with the conditions of probation. The character letters suggest that up to this point he complied with social and legal norms sort of above and beyond what normal law-abiding people do.”
“I’m not convinced that his lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him with respect to an expression of remorse,” Persky went on, “because I do find that his remorse is genuine.”
Professor Dauber’s efforts, in collaboration with the #MeToo movement, have made it clear that Santa Clara County will no longer accept perpetrators like Turner, who digitally penetrated an unconscious woman, as “not a danger to others.” As Persky himself said in his Turner ruling statement, “Once a jury renders a verdict, everybody is bound by that verdict.” In the metaphorical case of The Voters vs. Judge Aaron Persky, the people have finally handed down a verdict that champions women.