Colleagues Defend Judge in Brock Turner Case

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — Answering the frenzied attack against a Santa Clara County judge over his sentencing in the Stanford sex assault case, a group of retired California judges published an open letter Wednesday strongly defending the procedure used by the judge and reminded the public that judicial independence is a bedrock value of our democracy.
     The Retired Judges of Santa Clara Superior Court said Judge Aaron Persky followed correct procedure, adopted the recommendation of the probation officer and read extensively from the victim’s letter in sentencing of the now-infamous Brock Turner for digital penetration of an unconscious woman after a college drinking party.
     “Judicial independence is one of the core values of our democracy,” the retired judges said. “It is based on the principle that each case should be decided on its particular facts and the applicable law rather than in response to political considerations or public opinion.”
     The retired judges acknowledged that the judiciary system — and judges in particular — should not be immune from consideration, and can and should be removed for illegal and unethical conduct.
     “However, calls to remove a judge because of a decision, even a very unpopular one, when that judge exercised discretion permitted under the law, is an entirely different matter,” the retired judges said in the letter. “The essence of judicial independence is that judges must be able to make decisions without fear of political repercussions.”
     The dispute stems from Persky’s sentencing of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University student who was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault after he digitally penetrated a 22-year-old fellow Stanford student who was unconscious at the time due to alcohol intoxication.
     The crimes carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, and prosecutors recommended that Turner should spend six years in prison.
     On June 2, 2016, Persky sentenced Turner to six months, to be served in the Santa Clara County Jail as opposed to state prison. His time in jail will be followed by three years probation. Turner must also register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
     Notwithstanding, many in the community felt the sentence was far too lenient and indicative of a broader cultural failing to take sexual assault, and specifically sexual assault on college campuses, seriously.
     Much of the outrage focused on Persky personally, with various groups amassing signatures on petitions in an attempt to recall the judge and remove him from office.
     The retired judges said this reaction to sentencing that some perceive as lenient is counterproductive, and that Persky acted appropriately according to the prescriptions and duties of his position.
     “The full record in the case shows that Judge Persky made his decision after considering all the evidence presented at trial, the statements of the victim and the defendant, and a detailed report from an experienced probation officer,” the retired judges said. “The probation officer recommended essentially the sentence that was imposed, including the grant of probation.”
     The judges also noted that Persky read lengthy excerpts from the victim’s letter during the sentencing hearing, explained the reasoning behind the sentencing and generally followed proper procedure.
     “Judges acting in good faith routinely reach different decisions,” the retired judges wrote. “No doubt there are many judges who disagree with Judge Persky’s decision.”
     The judges asserted they are not attempting to argue the propriety or sufficiency of the sentence itself.
     “Rather, we firmly believe that removing Judge Persky from office under these circumstances would set a dangerous precedent and be a serious threat to judicial independence,” the letter said.

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