State commission: No evidence of judicial bias in Brock Turner sentencing

California state body clears Aaron Persky of misconduct

Embattled Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who was widely criticized for his sentencing of former Stanford University student Brock Turner, was cleared of judicial misconduct on Monday by the California Commission on Judicial Performance.

In a ruling released Monday, the commission determined that Persky did not abuse his authority nor exhibit bias in the Turner sentencing, as well as in other cases that have been reported by the national campaign to recall the judge as evidence of his alleged bias. In the wake of Turner's controversial sentencing this June, national women's advocacy organization Ultra Violet delivered a petition with close to 1 million signatures to the judicial commission, calling for Persky's removal.

"Many complainants asked the commission to ensure that the sentencing in this case matches both the crime and the jury's verdict and to be sure that justice is done," the ruling states. "The commission is not a reviewing court — it has no power to reverse judicial decisions or to direct any court to do so — irrespective of whether the commission agrees or disagrees with a judge's decision.

"It is not the role of the commission to discipline judges for judicial decisions unless bad faith, bias, abuse of authority, disregard for fundamental rights, intentional disregard of the law, or any purpose other than the faithful discharge of judicial duty is established by clear and convincing evidence," the ruling states, concluding that this was not the case with Persky.

The ruling rejects criticisms that Persky was biased in Turner's favor because of his race, socioeconomic status and affiliation as a Stanford athlete (Persky is a Stanford graduate and former lacrosse player). Persky's six-month sentence for Turner, who had been convicted by a jury of three felony sexual-assault charges, was lawful and consistent with the probation department's recommendation, the commission's ruling states.

Persky's lawyer, Kathleen Ewins, said in a statement that "It is clear that the commission carefully examined the facts and factors Judge Persky considered in sentencing Brock Turner before concluding he engaged in no ethical wrongdoing."

"Rather, the commission recognized that he made a reasoned, but unpopular, decision," she said.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, chair of the Recall Persky effort, said in a statement that the campaign "strongly" disagrees with the commission's ruling, maintaining that Perksy "has in fact demonstrated a clear pattern of bias in cases of sex crimes and violence against women."

"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," Dauber said.

UltraViolet described the ruling as "an example of our national rape culture epidemic at work," the group wrote.

"Persky's decision in the case of Brock Turner — and other abusers — undermined faith in the criminal justice system and will impact the willingness of sexual assault survivors to seek justice through the courts for years to come," UltraViolet stated.

Dauber also contends the commission's ruling is based in part on some "serious factual errors" related to other cases Persky presided over, including that he followed the probation report's recommendation for sentencing in "some cases in which there was no full probation report," she said.

The ruling addresses Persky's role in four other cases, rejecting the allegation that he does not take violence against women seriously and that he showed bias in favor of defendants who are white, privileged or college athletes.

The commission points to other judges who have been disciplined for misconduct as being in "stark contrast" to Persky, including a judge who referred to a rape victim as a "horse's ass" and another judge who said during a sentencing hearing that, "I'm not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something: If someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted."

The commission also ruled that Persky was not required to disclose his Stanford affiliation nor recuse himself from the Turner case, stating that he has had "minimal ties" to the university since graduating in 1985. Stanford was also not a party nor counsel in the case, "making his association with his alma mater even more attenuated as a ground for recusal," the commission notes.

The 11-member body, which is made up of two lawyers, three judicial officers and six members of the public, unanimously voted to close, without discipline, its preliminary investigation of complaints filed against Persky. Commission members Erica R. Yew of the Santa Clara County Superior Court and public-member Richard Simpson, a recently retired special assistant to the state Assembly speaker, recused themselves. (Simpson told the Weekly that he recused himself as a recent employee of legislators who filed a complaint with the commission calling for an investigation into Persky's conduct.)

The ruling ends with a quote from the California Code of Judicial Ethics: "An independent, impartial, and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society.

"An independent judge is one who is able to rule as he or she determines appropriate, without fear of jeopardy or punishment," it continues. "So long as the judge makes rulings in good faith, and in an effort to follow the law as the judge understands it, the usual safeguard against error or overreaching lies in the adversary system and appellate review."

In August, Persky stepped back from hearing criminal cases and moved from the Palo Alto courthouse, where he presided over the Turner case to San Jose. He also launched his own "Retain Judge Persky" campaign in response to the recall effort.

The next month, Turner was released after serving half his sentence in county jail in San Jose due to credit for good behavior.

Dauber said the recall effort has raised enough money to collect signatures to place a recall on the November 2017 ballot and will begin to seek signatures in April.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


17 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2016 at 12:19 pm

By all means, preserve the good old boys club.

7 people like this
Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 20, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Elizabeth, I agree with you in spirit; but the most substantive remedy to this entire sorry episode was the law signed by Governor Jerry Brown on September 30 erasing the entirely artificial distinction between rape and/or sexual assault of an unconscious vs. a conscious victim. Now both crimes are punished equally harshly under California law. Judge Persky issued a sentence that conformed to state law at the time. Now he and other judges around the state will never again have latitude to offer such lenient sentencing.

5 people like this
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2016 at 1:49 pm

SEA_SEELAM REDDY is a registered user.

Unfortunately not to our liking.

The guilty must repent and serve the punishment.


16 people like this
Posted by Marianne
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Dec 20, 2016 at 2:38 pm

And now that he's been judged by his peers, may we all stop judging.

10 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 20, 2016 at 4:34 pm

Question: did this commission's diversity similar to our general society? Or is it composed entirely elderly white men?

14 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 20, 2016 at 4:37 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

This is the age old practice by where members of an exclusive club circle the wagon and protect and shield one of their own.It's a laughable conclusion that very few will take seriously.

23 people like this
Posted by Time to move on
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 20, 2016 at 5:31 pm

Parent- a quick Google search yields the members of the commission
Web Link
You could have done that but then you would not be able to use the "the old white man" insult

Maurucio- you could have checked on the commission also, but then you would not be able to make the " circle the wagons" comment.this is a respected commission and I hardly think that everyone will find their decision "laughable".
Did you even read the commissions report? I doubt it. Don't they have the report in the paper in boLunas and/or monterey?

Of course this will not prevent law professor ( and not a lawyer) dauber and her fol.owes from continuing their vendetta against persky.

13 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 20, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Time to move on-

Thank you for the link to the members of the Commission on Judicial Performance. Four of the nine members of the Commission who investigated the complaint are women and the decision of the nine was unanimous!

10 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 20, 2016 at 9:39 pm

This is a joke gone bad.

Persky has no judicial sense. He's shown that repeatedly.

Just because some commission of political appointees says his decision does not have "judicial bias" (whatever that is) doesn't mean that we, the public, have to put up with his rotten decisions.

Out with him!

9 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Dec 22, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Big surprise here- Dauber doesn't accept the findings. A law professor who has never argued a case in a courtroom because she is not a member of the California bar. [Portion removed.] And why, I ask, is Dauber the only attorney Elena Kadveny goes to for comment? Can we not hear comments from a member of the State Bar, a practicing attorney, and/or retired judge? This continual coverage of Dauber is tiresome. She has put this judge through enough. It is time to get over it and move along. Talk about fake news! I hope Persky sues her for slander and serious personal harm. He could get millions!

1 person likes this
Posted by Srsly?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 22, 2016 at 3:40 pm

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Squid ink paella & patatas bravas: Barcelona natives bring Spanish tapas to Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 3,711 views

What to do with all those cardboard boxes
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 2,068 views

Lights Out! Foods to Snuggle With in the Dark
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 2,027 views

Premarital and Couples: The "Right" Way to Eat an Artichoke
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,538 views

Some answers, please, PG&E
By Diana Diamond | 11 comments | 1,162 views


Race Results Are In

Thank you for joining us at the 35th annual Moonlight Run & Walk! All proceeds benefit the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday fund, supporting local nonprofits serving children and families.

Click for Race Results