US judge removed from office over sex assault sentence

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A US judge who sentenced a former Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail instead of a long prison term for sexual assault has been removed from office.

Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky, who handed Brock Turner the widely criticised sentence in 2016, is the first California judge recalled since 1932.

A statement from the victim captured the national spotlight, recounting the ordeal of the investigation and trial, where she was cross-examined about her drinking habits and sexual experience.

“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she said in a statement read in court before the sentencing.

Within days, a politically connected Stanford law professor who was friends with the victim launched a campaign to recall the judge.

Santa Clara County voters agreed on Tuesday, ousting Judge Persky from office after nearly 15 years on the bench.

“The broader message of this victory is that violence against women is now a voting issue,” said Michele Dauber, an outspoken women’s rights campus activist who launched the recall effort.

She said the vote will resonate nationally and underscores the staying power of the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct that has brought a reckoning in politics, entertainment, business and elsewhere.

“This is a historical moment in time. Women are standing up for their rights, and there is a national reckoning,” Ms Dauber said.

Judge Persky, who declined to comment on Tuesday, said repeatedly that he could not discuss the case that spurred the recall because Turner has appealed against his conviction.

But in a lengthy interview with The Associated Press last month, he said he did not regret the decision and was taken aback by the reaction.

“I expected some negative reaction,” he said. “But not this.”

Judge Persky said he was adopting the probation department’s recommendation to spare Turner from prison for several reasons, including his age, clean criminal record and the fact that Turner and the victim were intoxicated.

“The problem with this recall is it will pressure judges to follow the rule of public opinion as opposed to the rule of law,” he said.

The California Commission on Judicial Performance ruled that he handled the case legally.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen did not appeal against the sentence.

The case sparked a national debate over the criminal justice system’s treatment of sexual assault victims and racial inequities in court.

Judge Persky is white and holds undergraduate degrees from Stanford and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Many complained he showed too much deference to Turner, a white Stanford scholarship athlete whose parents could afford a private lawyer.

Activists pointed to numerous other cases in which minorities faced much harsher sentences for less egregious crimes.

The victim, who came to be known as Emily Doe, testified that she was passed out behind a rubbish bin when two men saw Turner on top of her.

The Swedish graduate students yelled at Turner to stop and then chased him and held him down for police when he tried to flee.

Judge Persky said he took the victim’s experience into account when sentencing Turner.

But the judge said the publicity of Turner’s arrest and trial and his loss of a swimming scholarship also factored into the sentence.

Turner is also required to register for life as a sex offender.

Judge Persky cited numerous letters of support that friends, former teachers and employers wrote on behalf of Turner.

“I think you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life,” Persky said during sentencing.

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