Early Returns Show Judge Who Gave Stanford Swimmer 6 Months For Sex Assault Is Recalled

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Aaron Persky at news conference

(CNN) — Voters appeared to hand down a sentence of their own Tuesday to recall controversial Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky in California, according to early results.

With 81% of the precincts reporting, 59.6% of voters said they wanted to oust Persky. About 40% said he should stay in office.

If the recall is successful, it would be the first time since 1932 that California voters opted to recall a sitting judge.

Persky gained national notoriety in June 2016 when he sentenced former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman — a sentence many argued was far too lenient.

As election results started coming in Tuesday night, the chair of the Recall Persky Campaign — Michele Dauber — issued a statement saying “we are cautiously optimistic.”

“Tonight’s results mirror what we heard while we were out talking to voters,” Dauber said. “We are thankful for our supporters and every person who donated their time — it truly made a difference.”

Judge says recall would set a dangerous precedent

In a rare interview with CNN last week, Persky argued a successful recall effort wouldn’t just affect him — it would likely to set a dangerous precedent for judges in the future.

“I think generally judges should accept criticism,” Persky said. “They should accept responsibility for rulings. But when it gets to the step of a recall — actually recalling a judge primarily based on one decision — that, for me, is a step too far.

“That’s why I’ve chosen to speak out because I think it threatens the independence of judges in California and perhaps even the nation.”

Though unable to speak about the Turner case because it remains under appeal, Persky has not indicated he would have done anything differently.

Prosecutors had asked for a six-year prison sentence, but Persky agreed with the recommendation from the county probation department, which noted that, “When compared to other crimes of similar nature” the Turner case “may be considered less serious due to (his) level of intoxication.”

‘Such an egregious crime’

Critics immediately pounced and accused Persky of going easy on Turner because of his commonalities with the defendant. Like Turner, Persky was also a Stanford athlete. (He played lacrosse.)

Matthew Kells posted a sign in front of his house reading, “Vote yes to recall Judge Persky.”

He said he was disgusted that Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and received only a six-month sentence.

“I felt like that (sentence) was just not a right response for it. This was such an egregious crime,” Kells said.

“This was as bad as it gets. Having this guy in charge of these decisions just seems ludicrous.”

Still, the case may have faded from the national spotlight had it not been for the emotionally searing letter the victim read to Turner at sentencing. Within days, it went viral on the internet.

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” the letter began.

“You made me a victim. In newspapers my name was ‘unconscious intoxicated woman,’ 10 syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was.”

Critics of Persky, who has been on the bench since 2003, find it ironic that his judicial background also included work as a sex crimes prosecutor.

In other words, he helped incarcerate people like Turner, 22, who now lives near Dayton, Ohio, and is required to register annually for life as a sex offender.

That’s a penalty so burdensome that if Turner were to have children someday, he wouldn’t be able to get near their school. Supporters of Persky often point to this fact.

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