Three months after Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky’s controversial sentencing of former Stanford University student Brock Turner -- months filled with vehement criticism, an onslaught of media attention and a recall campaign -- Persky has requested to be reassigned to civil cases, according to a statement the county Superior Court issued Thursday.
"While I firmly believe in Judge Persky's ability to serve in his current assignment, he has requested to be assigned to the civil division, in which he previously served," Presiding Judge Risë Jones Pichon said in the statement. "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 is possible due to a request from another judge, Vincent Chiarello, to relocate to Palo Alto, according to the statement.
"Although the Presiding Judge normally implements assignment changes in January of each year, when two judges simply want to swap assignments for which they are both eminently qualified, there is no reason to delay implementation of a change they both desire," Pichon said.
Starting Tuesday, Sept. 6 — four days after Turner is set to be released from county jail — Persky will hear matters at the Old Courthouse in San Jose and Chiarello will take over in Palo Alto.
Persky has been the subject of intense criticism since giving Turner what was decried by many as a too-lenient sentence for the sexual assault of an unconscious, intoxicated woman on Stanford’s campus last January. Persky faced swift backlash in the courtroom, with jurors reportedly refusing to serve in an unrelated case just days after he handed down Turner’s sentence and the district attorney’s office disqualifying him from a new sexual-assault case.
The district attorney's office did not immediately return a request for comment on Persky's reassignment.
More recently, Persky's critics said that previous sentencing decisions are evidence of his alleged bias in sex-crimes cases, including the three years in state prison he gave to an immigrant from El Salvador who admitted to sexually assaulting his roommate and four days in county jail to a man who plead guilty to a felony child-pornography charge.
And last week, Persky recused himself from an upcoming hearing in the child-pornography case, citing exposure to publicity that "resulted in a personal family situation such that a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that the judge would be able to be impartial."
Many have defended Persky, though, including local public defenders who serve in his courtroom, and see the campaign to recall him, led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, as a serious threat to judicial independence.
One of those public defenders, Sajid Khan, called Persky's reassignment "sad and disappointing."
"The misinformed, misled and shortsighted mob has deprived my clients and our criminal justice system of a compassionate, thoughtful and exemplary judge," Khan wrote in an email to the Weekly.
In a statement Thursday, Dauber said that the recall effort will continue given that judges rotate annually and Persky could return to hearing criminal cases.
"The issue of his judicial bias in favor of privileged defendants in sex crimes and domestic violence still must be addressed by the voters of Santa Clara County. Furthermore, judicial bias is just as serious regardless of whether a case is civil or criminal. Many issues affecting women are heard in civil court every day," she said, pointing to a 2007 civil case Persky oversaw involving a group of De Anza College baseball players accused of gang raping a young woman.
Turner is scheduled to be released from jail next Friday, Sept. 2, after serving half of his six-month sentence based on credit for good behavior. The Recall Persky campaign is organizing a rally for that morning at the county Hall of Justice in San Jose with congressional members, local elected leaders (including Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt), sexual-assault survivors and activists.
The Palo Alto Weekly has created Storify pages to capture ongoing coverage of the Brock Turner case as well as sexual-assault issues at Stanford University. To view them, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.