A California judge who became a lightning rod in the national debate over campus sexual assault after he sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer has been cleared of judicial misconduct by an independent state agency.

California Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner, who was caught sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a trash bin outside a party, to six months in county jail, three years of probation, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Turner had faced as many as 14 years in prison, and because the trial had been so closely watched — the victim’s searing, eloquent letter about the assault went viral, and even elicited a response from Vice President Biden — many people were furious at a punishment that seemed to them to be excessively lenient.

An effort to recall the judge from office was launched soon after he issued the sentence in June. The Commission on Judicial Performance, the independent state agency responsible for investigating and disciplining judges, received thousands of complaints about Persky. Many thought he had abused his authority, not taken sexual assault seriously enough, and, as a former student and athlete at Stanford himself, shown bias, according to the commission.

But after reviewing the facts of the case, the commission voted unanimously to close its preliminary investigation without discipline. They wrote:

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.
First, the sentence was within the parameters set by law and was therefore within the judge’s discretion.
Second, the judge performed a multi-factor balancing assessment prescribed by law that took into account both the victim and the defendant.
Third, the judge’s sentence was consistent with the recommendation in the probation report, the purpose of which is to fairly and completely evaluate various factors and provide the judge with a recommended sentence.
Fourth, comparison to other cases handled by Judge Persky that were publicly identified does not support a finding of bias. The judge did not preside over the plea or sentencing in one of the cases. In each of the four other cases, Judge Persky’s sentencing
decision was either the result of a negotiated agreement between the prosecution and the defense, aligned with the recommendation of the probation department, or both.
Fifth, the judge’s contacts with Stanford University are insufficient to require disclosure or disqualification.

A spokesman for the court did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

Michele Dauber, a Stanford Law School professor who is leading the effort to recall Persky from the bench, said in a written statement, “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.” She questioned the commission’s review of his record in other cases.

“We believe that the record is completely clear that Judge Persky has a long record of failing to take violence against women seriously …

“We will continue to proceed with the recall election as it is important for Santa Clara County voters to decide whether Judge Persky should remain on the bench. This report simply highlights what we have been saying from the beginning, which is that a petition for judicial discipline was not the correct venue to address these concerns, and the recall is the only realistic way to remove Judge Persky from office.”

Gary Goodman, deputy public defender in Santa Clara County, welcomed the commission’s decision. “It was exactly the right thing to do and it shows that he followed the law 100 percent.”

He said people protesting the sentence are doing so from a misunderstanding of how such cases are typically handled — the system is designed to make it difficult to send a young person with no previous criminal record to prison, he said — and are overlooking the extreme stigma that comes with being registered as a sex offender for life.

Goodman said the commission’s decision supported judicial independence. “He is fair, well-versed, very bright — he’s the kind of guy we want on the bench.”