California judge cleared of misconduct for sentencing ex-Stanford swimmer to 6 months in jail for sexual assault

Sofie Karasek, who says she was sexually assaulted by an instructor during her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley, calls for the removal of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky from the bench, at a protest outside the Santa Clara County Jail in San Jose, Calif., Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. Willingham and others called for the recall of Persky because of the six-month jail term he sentenced Brock Turner to for a sexual assault conviction. Turner was released from the jail earlier Friday after serving half of his six month sentence. (AP Photo/Paul Elias)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A California judge was cleared of misconduct Monday for sentencing a former Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus, a punishment decried as too lenient by critics across the country.

There was no evidence that Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky displayed bias in his treatment of Brock Turner, according to the California Commission on Judicial Performance, which investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and disciplines judges.

The panel said it received thousands of complaints demanding Persky be punished over Turner’s sentence, which required the now-21-year-old to register as a sex offender for life.

Turner’s case exploded on social media and ignited a debate about campus rape and the criminal justice system after a powerful statement the victim read during the June 2 sentencing was published online.

Some critics accused the judge of coddling Turner because they were both Stanford athletes or showing gender bias by failing to take campus sexual assault seriously enough. Others say the case underscored inequities in the criminal justice system because Turner could afford a private attorney rather than a public defender.

Those urging discipline for Persky argued that a “less-privileged defendant would have received a harsher sentence,” the 11-member panel said.

However, “the commission has concluded that there is not clear and convincing evidence of bias, abuse of authority, or other basis to conclude that Judge Persky engaged in judicial misconduct warranting discipline,” according to its unsigned decision.

Persky said he was following a recommendation from the local probation department and cited Turner’s clean criminal record and the effect the conviction would have on Turner’s life in departing from the minimum sentence of two years in prison. Prosecutors had argued for six years.

The judge didn’t respond to email and phone inquiries Monday. Ethical guidelines bar Persky from publicly discussing the case, said his attorney, Kathleen Ewins.

“The difficulties for judges who become the subject of heated public criticism, but are ethically prohibited from responding, cannot be overstated,” Ewins said.

She said the commission “recognized he made a reasoned, but unpopular, decision.”

Persky now handles civil matters after he asked to be removed from criminal cases in August. He has faced physical threats, his attorney said.

The judge also remains the target of a recall campaign, led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber.

“We strongly disagree with the commission’s conclusion on judicial bias and we believe that Judge Persky has in fact demonstrated a clear pattern of bias in cases of sex crimes and violence against women,” Dauber said.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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