Judge Aaron Persky Cleared of Misconduct For Sentencing Ex-Stanford Swimmer to 6 Months in Jail for Sex Assault

Judge Persky is the target of a recall campaign, and the investigating commission said it received thousands of complaints and petitions

A California agency that oversees judicial discipline in the state ruled Monday that a judge committed no misconduct when he sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a young woman on campus.

The California Commission on Judicial Performance said there was no evidence that Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky displayed bias in handing down a sentence decried as too lenient by critics across the country.

"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 11-member panel concluded in its unsigned ruling.

Read the entire ruling

The commission said it received thousands of complaints and petitions regarding Persky and the sentence.

The petitions included complaints that Persky "displayed gender bias and failed to take sexual assault of women seriously," and showed favoritism to Turner because the judge was a former Stanford athlete as well.

Turner, 21, was released from jail in September after serving three months. He will be on probation for three years in his native Ohio and is a registered sex offender.

One of Persky's biggest critics, Stanford professor Michelle Dauber, said in a statement: “We will continue to proceed with the recall election. It is important for Santa Clara County voters to decide whether Judge Persky should remain on the bench for the next six years.”

She said the ruling highlights what her "Recall Persky" campaign has 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."

"It appears this was a one-sided investigation that involved the statements of Judge Persky's lawyer and not anyone else," Dauber said.

Persky's attorney Kathleen Ewins said the canons prevented her client from defending against the criticisms leveled against him based on the Turner sentencing.

"Judges need to be able to exercise their judgment without threats to their physical safety or the threat of the loss of their jobs," Ewins said. "That Judge Persky has been subject to both is disconcerting, particularly where, as here, public reaction has been based on gut reaction and political forces, not on a reasoned understanding of the facts and the law."

Meanwhile, Dauber said her campaign has raised enough money to collect the signatures needed to put the recall on the ballot, which she said she'd do in April.

Legal analyst Steve Clark said he too is not surprised by the commission ruling because the judge’s sentence followed the recommendations of county probation officials.

"The question moving forward will be the vindication that Judge Persky received from the decision, will that do anything to mitigate the recall against him and the firestorm that it's created?" Clark said.

Turner was convicted of assaulting the woman near a trash bin after they drank heavily at a fraternity party. The woman had passed out and Turner was on top of her when confronted by two graduate students passing by on bicycles. They chased and tackled him when he tried to flee, holding him on the ground until police arrived.

A jury in March found Turner guilty of three felony sexual assault counts. Persky sentenced him to six months in jail, citing the "extraordinary circumstances" of Turner's youth, clean criminal record and other considerations in departing from the minimum sentence of two years in prison. Prosecutors had argued for six years.

Turner's case exploded on social media and ignited a debate about campus rape and the criminal justice system after the victim's 7,200-word letter that she read in the courtroom during sentencing was published online.

NBC Bay Area's Thom Jensen contributed to this report.

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