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Judge who sentenced Stanford student to just six months for sexual assault cleared of wrongdoing

California state Senate President Kevin De Leon calls for the removal of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky from the bench because of the six-month jail term he sentenced Brock Turner to for a sexual assault conviction. (AP Photo/Paul Elias)

The California judge who handed down a controversially lenient sentence in the now-infamous Stanford sexual assault case has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The six-person judicial panel tasked with investigating Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky wrote in a 12-page report that Persky's sentencing of Brock Turner was within the "parameters set by law and was therefore within the judge's discretion."

Perksy garnered national backlash from lawmakers and anti-sexual assault advocates after he sentenced Turner, a Stanford swimmer, to just six months in jail and three years probation for his conviction on three counts of felony sexual assault after he raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. A harsher sentence, Persky said in June, would have a "severe impact" on the 20-year-old.

Turner could have received the maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, but the prosecution requested just six. Ultimately, Turner was released from jail after serving just three months of his sentence.

But the commission, an independent state agency, did not find any indication of bias in Persky's sentencing.

"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," the panel found.

Furthermore, the commission found:

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.

Perksy was accused of leniency again in October after he sentenced College of San Mateo football star Keenan Smith to eight weekends in jail and a year-long domestic violence course for assaulting his girlfriend.

Judge Aaron Persky. (Image source: KNTV-TV)

Despite the commission's findings, Persky's critics remained unabashedly determined to have Persky removed from the bench.

"We believe that the record is completely clear that Judge Persky has a long record of failing to take violence against women seriously," Michelle Dauber, a Stanford law professor and friend of the victim, told the Los Angeles Times Monday. "We believe that voters support the recall and will replace Judge Persky."

Dauber said Monday that she has enough signatures to put a recall on the ballot, KNTV-TV reported.

Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of the women's rights organization UltraVilolet, said the panel's report was "an insult to survivors of sexual assault everywhere."

"The epidemic of rape and sexual violence against women is a national problem, where our so-called justice system excuses rapists and normalizes sexual violence too often," Thomas said in a statement. "Today's decision ... like Judge Persky's decision to prioritize the well-being of convicted rapist Brock Turner, is yet another example of our national rape culture epidemic at work."

During the Turner trial, the victim read an emotional 12-page letter in which she depicted how her life has changed in the aftermath of the assault.

It drew the attention of Vice President Joe Biden, who launched a national crusade against sexual violence during his tenure. Biden wrote his own open letter to the victim in response.

A Change.org petition calling for the removal of Persky from the bench has garnered more than 1.3 million signatures. Multiple lawmakers called for Persky's removal in the aftermath of the sentencing as well.

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