On Friday, Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman when he was 20 years old, is scheduled to be released from jail.
At the time, the sentence requiring Turner to register as a sex offender and spend six months in jail caused outrage and led to heated national debate.
Some came to his defense, such as Robert Foley, a veteran judge who, recalling Persky’s time as an attorney, called him “one of the best lawyers who ever appeared in my court.”
Others, though, felt like the sentence was lenient and showed bias. In a statement, California Assemblywoman Susan Eggman called the decision “baffling and repugnant.”
Even Vice President Biden addressed the sentence in an open letter to the rape victim that was posted on BuzzFeed, in which he wrote, “while the justice system has spoken in your particular case, the nation is not satisfied.”
One reason Persky gave for the lenient sentence was that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on [Turner].”
In the almost 90 days that Turner has spent in jail, his case has mostly receded from national headlines, but the legal and political aftermath continues.
Stanford law professor Michele Dauber certainly hasn’t forgotten about it. She is the committee chair for Recall Judge Aaron Persky, a campaign committee aimed at gathering enough signatures — around 80,000 — to have a recall vote that would remove him from the bench.
Dauber told The Washington Post that she, and the committee, believe Persky’s sentencing was infected by bias in favor of white or privileged young men, which she called a “long-standing pattern.”
On Friday, as Turner is released, the Recall Judge Aaron Persky campaign will hold a rally at 10 a.m. in front of the Santa Clara Hall of Justice, which is next door to the jail where Turner is held. At the rally, several rape victims, along with Democratic California Reps. Jerry McNerney and Eric Swalwell and other politicians, will speak alongside Dauber.
Their goal, according to Dauber: “bringing forth the judge’s records and publicizing it to voters” in preparation to gather signatures.
Dauber said Persky’s biased sentencing has a long history that she hopes voters will learn about.
“I think he clearly does not understand violence against women and sex crimes as serious crimes. He treats them like misdemeanors,” Dauber said.
“He seems to have a particular area of bias for collegiate athletes. I think the way this bias operates is he sees these offenders as promising kids who got drunk and made a terrible mistake, rather than as serious felony offenders who are dangerous.”
She said Turner is far from the only example, pointing to a 2015 case involving 21-year-old Ikaika Gunderson that in her opinion “might be worse.”
In February 2015, Gunderson confessed to police that he had choked and beat his ex-girlfriend. Three months later, he pleaded no contest to a felony count of domestic violence, which meant he faced up to four years in jail, BuzzFeed reported.
Normally, sentencing occurs within a month or two of the pleading, but Persky delayed the sentencing for more than a year so Gunderson could attend the University of Hawaii, where he had planned to play football. He also said he would reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor if Gunderson attended weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and completed a year-long domestic violence program.
In October — by which point Gunderson had dropped out of the University of Hawaii, stopped attending AA meetings and wasn’t participating in the domestic violence program — the young man was arrested again for domestic violence, this time in Washington state.
“There are so many problems with how this case was handled that I’m not even sure where to start,” retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell told BuzzFeed. “The system is set up so that if someone has admitted a violent offense and is now a convicted felon, they should be closely monitored. You don’t just cross your fingers and hope everything is going to be fine. That’s not how the courts are supposed to work.”
The BuzzFeed story appeared on Aug. 26.
Persky, meanwhile, has given up presiding over criminal cases.
On Aug. 25, the Santa Clara Superior Court released a statement that announced Persky’s voluntary reassignment to the civil division. “While I firmly believe in Judge Persky’s ability to serve in his current assignment,” presiding Judge Risë Jones Pichon said in a statement, “he has requested to be assigned to the civil division, in which he previously served. 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.”
The reassignment will go into effect on Sept. 6.
It is unclear if BuzzFeed reached out to Persky for its story, or if he was otherwise aware of the piece before it was published and whether it played a role in his reassignment.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a bill proposing mandatory minimum sentences for all instances of sexual assault — which was inspired by the Turner case, according to the Los Angeles Times — unanimously passed the state assembly. It is now Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision whether to sign it into law.
“I think we need to make a clear statement to say this [sentencing] is unacceptable,” Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), one of the bill’s authors, told the newspaper earlier this month.
Currently, anyone convicted of rape while using additional physical force must serve jail time, while the sentencing of those convicted of raping an unconscious person or one too intoxicated to give consent is left to the discretion of the judge.
“Simply put, the definition of forcible rape — whether they’re unconscious or intoxicated versus being conscious — is absurd,” Low said.
“If we let a rapist off with probation and little jail time, we re-victimize the victim, we dissuade other victims from coming forward and we send a message that sexual assault of an incapacitated victim is just no big deal,” Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D-Napa), a co-author of the measure, said, according to the Times.
Not everyone believes a mandatory minimum would solve any perceived problems.
“This lack of discretion that comes with mandatory minimums will perpetuate policies that have previously resulted in mass incarceration,” Sajid Khan, a public defender in Santa Clara County, who has spoken out in Persky’s defense, told the Huffington Post. “Such policies will disproportionately impact the underprivileged and minorities in the criminal justice system and in our communities.
The ACLU of California also opposes the bill.
“The well-intentioned mandatory minimum sentence this bill creates will have negative impacts on communities of color and other unintended consequences,” Natasha Minsker, director of the group’s Center for Advocacy and Policy, told the Mercury News.