Los Angeles (AFP) – A US judge who came under seething criticism for sentencing a Stanford University student to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman has been ousted from office by voters in California.
Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky was recalled by a majority of voters in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, during primary elections held in the state on Tuesday.
Persky, who has served on the bench for 15 years, is the first California judge to be recalled since 1932.
He set off a storm of outrage in 2016 after he handed down what was perceived as a far too lenient sentence in the sexual assault trial of Stanford student Brock Turner.
Turner, who was 19 at the time, was arrested after two students discovered him lying on top of an unconscious 22-year-old woman near a dumpster.
He denied having assaulted the woman and said they had consensual sex after meeting at a fraternity party where there was heavy drinking.
A jury, however, rejected his defense and he was convicted of three felonies.
The case drew international attention after the victim — identified as “Emily Doe” — read an emotionally charged 12-page letter at the sentencing, telling Turner he had taken away “my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”
The letter, which went viral, threw the spotlight on the problem of rape and sexual assault on US college campuses and galvanized women’s rights groups.
The case also sparked a national debate about judicial independence.
“This is a sad day for the California judiciary,” LaDoris Cordell, a former Santa Clara County judge who was active in the campaign against the recall, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The voters’ message to judges, she added, was that “if they don’t go along with popular opinion… they can lose their job.”
However, supporters of the recall said Persky’s ouster was a clear message that perpetrators of such crimes would no longer get impunity.
“We’re in the middle of a historic moment, when women across all sectors of society are standing up and saying, ‘enough is enough’,” Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor who led the campaign for Persky’s recall, told local media.
“And I think there is a sort of national reckoning with the fact that women aren’t going to experience equality as long as we’re subject to high rates of sexual violence and sexual harassment.”